Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | State attorneys have accused police commanders of extorting money from suspects arrested on allegations of violating the COVID-19 measures.
Some of the state attorneys who spoke to Uganda Radio Network –URN but preferred anonymity say police commanders connive with investigators to extort money from people after arresting them on claims of defying the guidelines. The victims allegedly pay between 50,000 and 100,000 Uganda shillings.
One state attorney from Mukono district cited a case where police on May 8 arrested 105 people during an operation but to her surprise, only 15 suspects were presented for file perusal and legal advice.
“I watched the news. The suspects were 105 and police the spokesperson confirmed the numbers to the media. It was a Friday but on Monday a case file was presented to me with only 15 suspects. I sent someone to secretly find out why and the remaining suspects said they had failed to pay the money the police commanders wanted,” a state attorney said.
Another state attorney from Kampala said there was an operation in which a relative was arrested but she found police charging people money to gain freedom.
“My relative had also been asked to pay 100,000 shillings but they got shy after he told them that I was going to send them the money. They released him perhaps fearing that it was going to be a trap. I don’t sanction such files but I write to the police to release the suspects,” she said.
One of the state attorneys called police investigators in presence of a URN reporter to inquire why just a quarter of the suspects had been slapped with charges yet their offence was the same. The investigator informed her that she had been ordered to release 40 of the suspects.
“When you arrest 50 people inside a bar, it means their crime is the same. It beats my understanding when only three people are slapped with charges. I can’t allow being used by police. I can’t charge the poor who can’t afford bribes,” the attorney vowed.
But Patrick Onyango, the Kampala Metropolitan police spokesperson says there is no official complaint lodged regarding commanders who extort money from suspects.
He says police release suspects for a number reasons which include genuine explanations as to why someone has defied Covid-19 guidelines. He explains that if someone says he or she flouted the orders because they had escorted their sick relatives they get released.
In March, President Yoweri Museveni issued more than 40 guidelines intended to curb the spread of Covid-19. Uganda has so far registered 264 cases of people who have tested positive to the virus while 65 patients have since been discharged after recovering.
Though Onyango says the allegations about police commanders extorting money are baseless, a shop attendant at Sonde, in Mukono, who used a pseudo name of Mataala says he has spent 235,000 shillings on buying his freedom in the last three months.
“I have a sick boy and sometimes I would return from the hospital alone after I have left my wife attending to him. Those policemen would stop me and I would pay at least 20,000, sometimes 50,000 shillings to be released with my motorcycle. But we have now become friends and they no longer stop me,” Mataala.
Police’s Professional Standards Unit –PSU in March released a report indicating 160 officers are accused by civilians of extortion, bribery and corruption.