Interior ministers clash over Besigye arrest

Cabin crew help Besigye (in shades) to his seat aboard a Kenya Airways plane on Friday. The FDC leader was brutally arrested on Thursday in Kampala. PHOTO BY ISAAC KASAMANI

In a direct disagreement with his boss Kirunda Kivejinja who justified the violent arrest of opposition leader Kizza Besigye, Internal Affairs State Minister, Matia Kasaija, has criticised the manner in which the arrest was done.

Mr Kasaija, who appeared on WBS Television and Capital FM radio to give his personal views on the matter, said he condemned the actions of Gilbert Arinitwe, a plain-clothed security operative who was captured smashing the windows of Dr Besigye’s car and dousing the inside with pepper spray and tear gas before manhandling him into a waiting police vehicle.

Mr Kasaija’s position is in direct contradiction to that of his senior minister Kivejinja, who told journalists on Friday that security was justified to use the kind of force they employed because the FDC leader was threatening to injure police officers with a “hammer”.

Mr Kivejinja said the police force was “within its constitutional mandate to restore law and order by disengaging crowds and is allowed by the law to shot at people as the way of “preventing and detecting crime”.

Kivejinja also accused the media of being “bedfellows with Besigye” after they put him on the spot to explain his allegations of the hammer. But Mr Kassaija, who deputises Kivejinja, confirmed yesterday that neither Besigye nor any of the occupants in his vehicle were actually armed. He said it was Besigye’s supporters who were armed with stones and kept hurling them at police, forcing the officers to retaliate with tear gas and live bullets.

“It do not think it was absolutely necessary to hammer that car,” Mr Kasaija said, adding, “If I was the one I would just tow that car away with Dr Besigye inside. What they did was unnecessary.”

Mr Kasaija wondered how a professional police officer could do what he watched on television. “What I will never subscribe to; is if someone surrenders to you and you continue to beat him. A police officer should be civil. You cannot do this to people who are not armed.”

Mr Kivejinja has admitted that 360 people were arrested and 150 injured and more than five killed. He, however, said the government was not taking responsibility for those killed and advised Ugandans to blame the death on “the British and the Americans who manufacture bullets”.

“We are not the ones who invented bullets,” Mr Kivejinja said. Amid interminable questions from foreign journalists, Mr Kivejinja accused the foreign media of habouring a hidden agenda against the NRM government and said this was the reason he “burnt a British passport” which was given to him while on a study in India.