Inside: BBS TV journalist arrested over Bobi Wine recounts ordeal

BY: Eyalama In News On
- Updated
On January 6, Kyadondo East MP and People Power pressure group leader Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine was set to launch his week-long consultative meetings after declaring his intentions to challenge President Museveni in next year’s general elections.
The launch was scheduled to take place at Gayaza Our Lady of Good Counsel playground but police accused the organisers of the meeting of failure to adhere to the provisions of the Public Order Management Act (POMA). Later, police fired teargas and live bullets to disperse Bobi’s supporters and also arrested several people. Among the first victims of the arrest, was Buganda Broadcasting Services (BBS) TV reporter, Willy Tamale.
In an interview, Tamale says he was the first journalist to arrive in Kyadondo East to cover the planned meeting. He says as he approached Kasangati police station – about half a kilometer to the planned venue of the meeting at about 7:30 am, he found tyre spikes placed in the middle of the road to help the police screen all those heading to Gayaza.“I parked my car somewhere and pulled out my gadgets in order to report live on Facebook,” Tamale who also runs an online TV channel called Tamie Images TV said. However, no sooner had he pulled out his recording devices than a female police officer approached him.Questions started flowing in quick succession. “Who are you? What are you doing here? Who told you to record police activities? What’s your interest? Where is your ID?” The officer whose nametag read Amia demanded to know but was too impatient to wait for the answers.

In a few minutes, she reached out for her phone and called for reinforcement. In an instant two policemen appeared. They grabbed Tamale and dragged him to Kasangati police station that was in their sight.

At the police station, one officer seated at the reception didn’t hide his admiration for the government by scorning at those he perceives to be its enemies.

“You can’t fight the government, the government is very powerful. My advice to you is to try something else,” Tamale recalls a male officer telling him.He wondered how a journalist wearing a branded shirt, recording what was happening with the purpose of informing the people, was fighting the government. The officer in charge whose nametag read Tumwesigye asked what offence he should record and the lady who arrested Tamale told him ‘inciting violence.’

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“The charge was laughable, to say the least. When they arrested me, there was no other person or journalist to prove otherwise. I was therefore left to the mercy of the officer,” Tamale says.

He was booked in one of the cells, which had more than 80 suspects mainly arrested during Christmas and New Year festivities.“The officer who took me told the inmates that, ‘I’m bringing a newcomer; you should welcome him in our way.’ I wondered what that way was, but the funny part of it, they welcomed me very well after knowing that I was a journalist,” Tamale recalls.

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About two hours later, about 10 politicians were added into his cell, bringing it to a brim. But these did not include Bobi Wine and other top People Power leaders arrested with him. These were put into the VIP section of the cells.When they were later transferred to Naggalama police station in Mukono district, Tamale was shifted to the VIP section where he found 24 other People Power leaders left behind. These included spokesperson Joel Ssenyonyi and former Kyadondo East MP contestant Muwada Nkunyingi.“They kept on asking me why I was arrested yet I’m a journalist. I didn’t have an answer myself,” Tamale said.

When he got an opportunity to get out for a short call, Tamale demanded that he speaks to the person concerned to find out why he was arrested and how he could get back his freedom but got no answers.This meant that he had to spend a night in the cells. This was the first time that he was sleeping in a cell of any kind. He says it was one of the longest nights in his entire life.

“It would be a lie if I tell you I ever slept even briefly. Actually I spent the entire night standing because the room was too small to allow us all sleep,” Tamale said.With the alarm sounded by another journalist working for Radio Simba, Ssematimba Bwegiire who was also briefly arrested, Tamale’s predicament got to Robert Ssempala, the executive director Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) who came and rescued him.

Ssempala in the company of BBS TV news editor, Andrew Mukasa Mutyaba spent about four hours trying to convince police to release Tamale on bond. But before he could be released, the DPC whose nametag read Muhangi had some advice for him.

“Why don’t you come out publicly like Joel Ssenyonyi and say you are leaving journalism for activism,” Tamale recalls Muhangi telling him.

He had no answer for him although he got the feel of how partisan some police officers can be. Tamale has been a journalist for 17 years covering mainly political stories. He worked at Daily Monitor for 10 years before joining BBS.
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