On Saturday April 4, the country woke up to the gruesome photos of women and men at Elegu border with South Sudan who were pulled out of their houses, beaten and rolled on a muddy ground by security forces under the pretext of enforcing the President’s directives on coronavirus and curfew.
Since March 30 when the President Museveni announced the lockdown over Covid-19 pandemic and the night curfew to restrict human movement, security forces comprising Local Defence Unit forces, police, army, and intelligence agencies have been beating up people they accused of defying the order.
On March 20, President Museveni ordered closure of all education institutions, public gatherings, churches and mosques, among other restrictions. Security forces swiftly descended on the public and started beating them for alleged defiance. Journalists on duty were not spared either.
Last Friday, while addressing the nation on the Covid-19 update, President Museveni said security forces who are torturing Ugandans are like pigs and warned that action would be taken against the culprits. The President reiterated that staying home during the lockdown does not mean staying indoors. He castigated security officers who arrested and beat up people found in their compounds beyond 7pm.
“I think I was misunderstood when I said people should stay home. I did not mean you should be confined indoors. You are allowed to enjoy your compound if it is hot or even go to the latrine outside. Besides most of our homes don’t have toilets inside. So the clarification is: Staying home does not mean we are confining you indoors, you can move within your home demarcation, simply do not go past your home into the neighbourhood or the trading centre, especially during the night curfew,” Mr Museveni clarified.
However, the same night, security forces in Lorokwo West Village in Elegu Town Council in Amuru District, emerged from their hideouts, pulled women and men from their houses, beat them and forced them to roll in the mud after ordering them to remove their clothes. Sources on the ground said some were allegedly asked to rub the mud in their private parts as the security officers mocked them.
The security personnel reportedly used iron bars and sticks to beat the people.
The beating of the Elegu women is not an isolated case. Over the last two weeks, a number of similar cases have been reported in other parts of the country.
Ms Margaret Auma, the chairperson of Elegu Women Cross-border Traders Savings and Credit cooperative Society, who owns the premises where the security officers pulled out the victims, said at around 7 pm when everyone was in their houses, she heard women crying: “why have you pulled us from our houses to start beating us. What have we done?”
She said the women cried but the security forces continued beating them.
According to her, the officers kept kicking doors and pulling out mainly women and moved with them up to 1am when they were released.
After the photos of those tortured at Elegu emerged on social media, a joint security task team of senior army and police officers started investigating the alleged torture.
Mr Fred Enanga, the police spokesperson, in a press release on Sunday said the patrollers kicked doors open and dragged the occupants out and some fell on muddy surfaces.
“Using a heavy handed approach to disperse the occupants, several vulnerable women and a few men were injured in the process,” he said.
Enanga said 38 victims comprising 31 females and Seven males were traced and their detailed statements were recorded.
“One of the male victims identified as Kuma Charles Adigoli suffered significant injuries of a fractured arm and is admitted at the 4th Divisional Hospital at its headquarters in Gulu District, while the rest of the victims had obvious injuries. They were further subjected to medical examination and will continue receiving the best possible support as we fast track their matter to the courts of law,” he said.
“The leadership of both the UPDF and UPF, strongly condemns the outrageous and gross acts of misconduct by the officers,” he added. Mr Enanga said their prosecution commences today although he did not indicate where the trial will take place.
The Uganda People’s Defence Forces spokesperson, Brig Richard Karemire, said the army had taken additional measures to ensure all those on foot patrol do not torture and violate the rights of people. “As an additional measure to report erring security personnel to Lt Col Edith Nakalema, the Chief of Defence Forces has directed motorised Military Police to monitor the discipline of deployed forces,” he said.
Ten police and six military officers have been arrested. The police officers include Richard Balenzi, Musaasizi Charles, Joseph Odong, Moses Opado, Augustine Opio, Bosco Okello, Jimmy Okello, Ssentamu Richard, Byamukama G, Nelson Funga, and Ronald Busingye.
The soldiers include Lance Cpl Awany Abori Constantine, Pte Mohammed Makanga Mohammed, Eboku John Mark, Robert Mutenge, Silvestre Ayo, and Eria Ahimbisibwe, who are being charged in the Court Martial.