A photographer with The New Times Publications Sarl George Baryamwisaki was on Tuesday evening beaten up by a policeman attached to Remera Police Station.
Baryamwisaki a.k.a Barya and reporter Ignatius Ssuuna were also dragged to the same police station where they were put under arrest for about two hours.
The incident happened after Barya photographed the policeman – whose identity could not be established by press time – trying to forcefully arrest city hawkers, and confiscate their business clothes outside Giporoso Taxi Park in Remera, a Kigali City suburb.
The roundup of hawkers in the area happened at a time Barya and Ssuuna were at the scene covering a story about hawkers’ business.
It was around 6 p.m. The policeman was in the company of two uniformed Local Defence personnel.
The journalists say the policeman was enraged by Barya’s photographing, and then turned his gun against The New Times (TNT) scribes.
The armed policeman roughed up Barya, handcuffed him and ordered him to walk with him to the police station. “As we were walking to the station, he (the policeman) continued to slap and punch Barya, who was handcuffed,” Ssuuna said.
When Barya suggested the photos be deleted in exchange for his freedom, the enraged policeman slapped him more.
The journalists also say that the policeman said since he was going to lose his job because of the incident, the photographer had to pay heavily before the officer was sacked. “I have the powers to shoot you. How dare you take my picture without my consent?” the angered policeman fumed.
The policeman cocked the gun and demanded an explanation from Barya why he photographed him without his consent, said Ssuuna.
“It was hell because the man tortured me badly. Imagine being boxed, slapped in the face yet you are handcuffed. He was also ordering me to delete the photos yet I was handcuffed. I just offered my body,” Barya, whose face was still visibly swollen with red eyes by yesterday, said.
On their way to the police station, Ssuuna managed to escape and telephoned The New Times management to inform them of their fate. He also managed to call the Police Spokesman Inspector Willy Marcel Higiro and informed him about the saga that was going on.
Ssuuna also ran to Remera Police Station to report the case, but he was instead told off by a group of about six policemen, who immediately put him under arrest.
“They took away the camera from me (since Barya had handed it to me) and I was told to enter a small room where we were forced to sit down. The same happened to Barya when he arrived,” the journalist said.
He said the policeman was also bitter with him for communicating to TNT management and police spokesman.
“Hell broke loose at the police station; instead of dissuading their colleague from beating Barya, other policemen jeered and encouraged their colleague to ‘teach big-headed journalists a lesson’,” Ssuuna said.
“We just sat helplessly at the mercy of a ruthless policeman. Later, I was taken into a cell but my tormentor followed me and continued to beat and insult me,” Barya said.
After almost two hours at the station, the two journalists were released following the intervention of TNT senior editors who insisted that the two be set free.
“On seeing the editors and more reporters, they removed the handcuffs from me,” Barya said. However, at the police station, the Officer in Charge (OC), who refused to identify himself by name, promised the TNT editors that the policeman would be reprimanded seriously.
“A policeman is not supposed to beat up people. But this should be treated as an individual case not the entire police issue,” the officer said.
He however declined to name the policeman in question.
At the station, some mean-looking policemen surprisingly told TNT staff that their colleague was ‘actually patient’ to have desisted from shooting Barya. When contacted yesterday, the Commissioner General of Police, Andrew Rwigamba, said he was unaware of the incident but promised that tough action would be taken against the errant officer.
“That is news to me but we are going to investigate the incident. We shall discipline whoever is involved,” he said.
Rwigamba said that he had personally warned all police personnel never to harass journalists but rather to cooperate with them.
This is not the first time TNT journalists have been roughed up and had their professional equipment confiscated by policemen.
In March this year, former TNT reporter, Magnus Mazimpaka, was arrested for taking a photograph of policemen who were beating up a man who was selling local brew on Umuganda (communal work) day.
In May, Barya was arrested and held at CID for taking photographs of renowned Kigali City businessman Assinapol Rwigara, who had just presented himself to the Prosecutor General Martin Ngoga after weeks of hiding.
At that time, Barya was detained for an hour and had all the pictures in his camera deleted.
The CID boss Costa Habyara then apologized for the incident and promised that action would be taken to punish those involved in the act.
And mid this year security personnel in Gicumbi arrested former TNT Bureau Chief in the area, John Bayingana, for taking pictures of cows during a public auction of 33 Friesian cows.
The cattle had been seized from two residents on grounds that they brought them into the country from Uganda in violation of a quarantine policy then.