BY EDITORIAL TEAM
In a chilling and unfortunate turn of events, investigative journalist Alex Baluku, renowned for his work with the Rwenzori Daily and his freelance contributions to Messiah Radio in Kasese town, once again found himself in the clutches of fear and danger. This harrowing incident unfolded just nine months after his miraculous survival during a life-threatening encounter during the Busongora South by-election.
On this grim occasion, three unidentified assailants subjected Baluku to a brutal assault and robbed him of his most vital tools of the trade – his smartphone, laptop computer, and camera. This incident occurred on 11th May, 2023, Thursday evening at 9:42 pm, near All Saints Church in Kisanga A, Nyamwamba Division, Kasese town.
Baluku, having just completed his work for the day and heading towards his rented accommodation, suddenly sensed something amiss. As he disembarked from a Boda Boda, his instincts flared as he noticed a motorcycle trailing him with three ominous figures aboard. Before he could react, the motorcycle closed in, and the men demanded his laptop bag, which contained his computer, camera, and invaluable notebooks.
Fear gripped Baluku as he desperately tried to assess the situation and identify his assailants. Their menacing response sent chills down his spine – they threatened to end his life if he did not comply with their demands. Baluku, faced with an overwhelming sense of vulnerability, had no choice but to surrender his bag. He recalled the terrifying encounter, saying, “After snatching my bag from behind, they forced me to hand over my phone. When I informed them I didn’t have it, one of them slapped me, searched my pocket, and discovered it.”
The reference made by the assailants to a previous incident in Katunguru served as a chilling reminder of Baluku’s past trauma. He soon realized that these were the same individuals who had previously held him at gunpoint during the Busongora South by-election in August 2022.
During that fateful episode, a police officer, disguised in the attire of the Uganda Police, had threatened Baluku at gunpoint, compelling him to delete all the photos and videos he had captured while police officers brutally arrested one of the candidates, Alozious Kighema. Kighema had been protesting alleged vote rigging and vote stuffing during the election. The sight of both army and police personnel casting multiple ballots had created chaos among voters and opposition candidates’ agents.
This most recent assault occurred just one week after Baluku, through his legal representatives at Balukusa Legal Associates, had served an intention to sue the Kasese Central Police Station. This legal action highlighted Baluku’s case where a police officer had put him at gunpoint in August 2022.
ASP Nelson Tumusiime, the Rwenzori East Police spokesperson, expressed regret over Baluku’s ordeal but vehemently denied any connection between the assailants and the police force. He urged Baluku to come forward and report the matter to the police, promising a swift investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.
However, the unresolved incident from 2022, where Baluku was held at gunpoint, continues to cast a dark shadow over the journalist’s quest for justice. Tumusiime pledged to inquire with the department responsible for that case and promised to provide updates on identifying the officer involved.
When asked about his intention to pursue legal action for justice, Baluku, with a heavy heart, expressed deep fear for his life. Tearfully, he admitted, “I am worried and scared for my life. They took my phone, laptop, and my colleague’s camera and warned me against covering democratic and governance-related stories. These losses are significant, and I’ve already suffered last year when I lost a recorder. They’ve threatened to kill me, reminding me of last year’s incident. What do you expect me to do? I have no choice but to let the case go.”
Baluku’s skepticism about reporting the recent case to the police is palpable. He remarked, “Look at you; this is the same police that’s tormenting me. They’ve already warned me not to report anywhere. So, which police are you talking about?” His words underscore the very real dangers he faces in seeking justice.
Balukusa Legal Associates, who had been providing pro bono legal assistance to Baluku, revealed their respect for his decision to drop the case if that is what he chooses.
Saimon Bikeke, Team Leader at Umbrella For Journalists in Kasese, an organization dedicated to advocating for journalists’ press freedom, expressed deep concern about the disturbing pattern of harassment and assault against journalists.
Bikeke raised poignant questions about why the police, whose role is to protect journalists, would turn against them, and why they targeted Baluku while he was merely doing his journalistic work. Bikeke pledged to continue amplifying the voices against the abuse of journalists’ rights.
As Baluku’s case remains in limbo, the unanswered question looms large: Who cares about Baluku’s safety and quest for justice? This question serves as a stark reminder of the urgent need to protect journalists and ensure their safety as they bravely strive to report the truth.
Journalists like Alex Baluku are the guardians of democracy, and their safety should be a collective responsibility that transcends political interests and affiliations. In a world where the truth is often a casualty of power struggles, it is vital that we stand united to protect those who dare to uncover it.