By Flavia Nassaka
One year after it rebranded, the force gains notoriety
‘We come in and disperse them: Violations of the right to freedom of assembly by the Ugandan police ’. This is the title of the report launched on Dec. 07 by Amnesty International, a global NGO. The report shows how people have been manhandled and their rights violated by the police, an institution that is supposed to protect them. The report found that the police arbitrarily arrested political opposition leaders and used excessive force to disperse peaceful political gatherings, making it hard for the public to receive information and engage with politicians in the lead-up to elections next year.
Among the key incidents noted is when presidential candidates John Patrick Amama Mbabazi of the TDA Go-Forward pressure group and Forum for Democratic Change (FDC)’s Dr. Kizza Besigye were arrested. On July 09, the two were put under preventive arrest to sabotage their plans to hold consultations with voters in Eastern Uganda.
They were arrested at the time when opposition political parties under The Democratic Alliance (TDA) were engaged in discussions about the possibility of fielding a single candidate against incumbent President Museveni, who is seeking a fifth elective term.
In a statement, Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa says members of the opposition have been repeatedly put under preventive arrest and the police have indiscriminately fired tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful demonstrators.
To come up with the report, Amnesty International conducted 88 interviews with torture victims, eyewitnesses and senior police officers in addition to analyzing video footages taken at different scenes between the months of July and October.
But, even without this report, the security institution has engaged in several misdeeds with impunity. For instance on Nov.16, supporters of the Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago suffered the wrath of the police when they tried to defy the Electoral Commission’s move to halt their candidate’s nomination awaiting guidelines from government. Though Lukwago was arrested near his home in Wakaliga others suffered serious injuries that ended them in hospital. Isaac Kugonza, a young journalist with a new television – Delta TV is one of them. When the Independent visited him in Mulago hospital on Nov 17, the 24 year old who had a swollen eye was still in severe pain that he struggled to sustain a conversation or keep his eyes open.
Kugonza who doctors said was injured by a blunt object couldn’t tell what exactly hit his head. He said the police was firing tear gas yet the rowdy crowds were throwing stones. ” I also saw a police man shoot in the air. Everything happened so fast. I found myself bleeding but I don’t know who beat me”.
Kugonza’s case represents myriad instances in which police operations have left civilians and members of the opposition political parties injured. Some people are treated in the most demeaning way opposed to principles of good policing. One of the scenarios that has attracted wide spread condemnation with a social media hashtag #SomeoneTellKayihura, a reference to the inspector general of police is when Fatumah Zainab Naigaga, a member of FDC was humiliated.
For Naigaga, a mother of two, Oct 10 was like any other normal day until her and fellow FDC members got involved in an accident along the Mbarara highway just a few kilometers from Masaka town as they headed to a western Uganda district of Rukungiri. The entourage including party flag bearer Dr. kizza Besigye, Leader of Opposition in parliament Wafula Oguttu and MPs were traveling to launch a countrywide mobilization drive ahead of their candidate’s nomination on Nov 04.
The police according to Naigaga threw what she called metallic thorns (metallic spikes) onto the road falling in front of the fast moving Tororo County MP Geoffrey Ekanya’s car, which in trying to dodge them, knocked another car ahead.
“I could not take in the unfair treatment and merciless acts of the police towards opposition politicians which I strongly and loudly opposed,” she said.
She was then surrounded by female officers who tried to arrest her. This soon turned into a scuffle as more officers joined with some pulling her legs and others her hands. In a fear minutes she was stripped naked. “In the struggle to resist the arrest, my blouse was torn into pieces and all I was left with was a bra,” she said. “The fight was still on as I had to fight for what I was left with so that I don’t get undressed although the ones holding my legs over powered me to the extent of getting my trousers down to the knees.”
In anger and desperation, Naigaga admits finally pushing her trousers off since they had reached the knees. To her, harm had already been done and there was nothing more to save.
“Of course they finally over powered me and managed to bundle me onto the police cabin truck although I resisted pushing me under the seats”. She was detained at Mbarara police station before being released later on the same day.