The women who were stripped, their story

Woman MP Kampala District, Nabila Nagayi Sempala and Political Activist, Nassimbwa Hamida

What you need to know:

Last week, Hamida Nassimbwa was arrested together with FDC women’s league leader, Ingrid Turinawe. The manner in which the duo was arrested has raised many questions.

If there are children of the revolution, then it is only fair to assume that street riots have spawned an entire generation of demonstrators. And what is a generation, but 20 years?
Ever since, the police engaged in running battles with the Tabliq sect in the early 1990s, the rioters have become bolder over time.
Last week, it became clear that as a nation, we are moving into stormy waters, when we were treated to a dreadful scene of a half-naked woman (Hamida Nassimbwa) being dragged on the tarmac at the parliamentary avenue, by a police woman.
The Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs had invited the public and political parties for public hearing on their views on electoral reforms.
However, besides Nassimbwa, there have been other women who have been similarly humiliated. There is the Woman MP for Kampala, Nabila Nagayi Sempala, and then there is the woman who was thrown onto a police truck like a sack of potatoes. These are their stories.

Nassimbwa Hamida, 31, Political

How it all began
My political activism began in 2007 when I was a food vendor in Kiseka market. There was a riot against the proposed takeover of the market by a businessman and the police who came to quell it ate our food.
I rallied my fellow vendors and we tried to petition the Speaker of Parliament. I was instead arrested and spent three weeks at Central Police Station.
The time I spent in the cell hardened me. I shifted to Park Yard market and the day after my kwanjula, the market was burnt by arsonists and I lost my merchandise. I was dealing in children and women’s shoes and I had just brought new stock from Nairobi.
My husband’s stall, which was near mine, was also destroyed. We rebuilt our businesses but every time the market got burnt, our stalls perished. What annoyed me is that we were never given a police report yet a new arcade was built on the site of the market.
I have always been an opposition sympathiser, and Dr Kizza Besigye is my role model, but after these tragedies, I joined them. I participated in the Walk-To-Work protests and I spent time in Luzira Prison because of my activism.
Recently, because Park Yard market was burnt for the fourth time, I joined the Jobless Brotherhood.

My story
On the day we were supposed to appear before the Legal Committee, when we arrived at Parliament, CPS Commander, Michael Sabila Musani, blocked us from accessing the building, yet we were taking our proposals for electoral reforms.
The police were trying to arrest Ingrid (Turinawe, Chairperson FDC Women’s League) and I was determined to stop them because she had done nothing wrong. We are free to move anywhere in this country.
Musani called a police woman who works at the Ministry of Finance to arrest me. This woman had a tiny bottle of spray in her hand that she sprayed on me.
The liquid burns like acid and when she sprayed it on my skirt; I tried to remove the cloth from my body. I was in terrible pain. Because they were holding my arms, I could not scratch at the pain; the only option was to kick back and in the process the skirt came up.

The aftermath
I ended up with a fracture on my right ankle.
I felt insulted and humiliated. I was traumatised by the whole experience. The effect on my children is terrible. I have two sets of twins, and the youngest, who are five years old, keep asking me why the police wanted to cut off my legs.
The older pair, who are seven years old, cry every time I leave home. They are convinced that the police want to kill me. I have to assure them that I will come back home.
My husband is a calm man, but the fact that he was speechless shows how deeply affected he was. He only said he would pray for God to heal me. He is not happy with my activism, but he respects my decision.

When I have healed, I will return to activism. I now know that anything can happen to me but I have to fight for this country and our children.
I believe that if all women went to City Square and undressed, we can force President Museveni out of office.
If the police has started undressing us, then we will spare them the trouble and just come to the streets naked. I am ready to inspire others.
I also intend to sue the police as an institution for violating my human rights.

Last week, police arrested the FDC Women League leader Ingrid Turinawe in her attempt to join other Opposition members, including FDC president Mugisha Muntu, who had made it to Parliament. Turinawe was arrested together with Hamidah Nalongo Nassimbwa, an activist, who was stripped half-naked by police officers in attempts to restrain her.

Rebeca Nanssukusa Lawyer,
Makeera and Company Advocates

Whichever way you look at it, this woman’s (Nassimbwa) case, her human rights were violated. There is freedom of expression in this country and she was at liberty to be at Parliament, because it is not a restricted area.
She can sue for violation of her human rights and liberty because her right to movement in a public place were violated.
The fact that she was publically mistreated by being undressed is enough ground to sue.

Nabila Nagayi Sempala
Woman MP, Kampala District

It was in 2008 in Owino market when the police attempted to undress me when I had gone to address a rally there.
During the entire fracas, I had gone into shock. I did not believe that this terrible thing was happening to me. At first I was in denial, but I soon realised that I could not make that argument because I was being victimised.
It was like a scene from a horror movie. But when it finally dawned on me that the policemen behind me were bent on pulling my skirt upwards, I started fighting back.
It was a fight for my dignity as a woman. And when they finally took me to CPS I felt safer in the police cell. At that time, the cell was better than the market where I was being undressed.
It was a very emotional time for me. I cried a lot in the cell. My husband was one of the first people on the scene and he helped me deal with that trauma.
I have always tried to protect my children so there was no way they could see me on TV because they were watching the cartoon channels.
I am now more pro-active. If I am going to get involved in an activity that involves demonstrating, I wear trousers or shorts under my skirts.
Concerning Nassimbwa’s situation at Parliament, I am confused. My reaction was quite different from hers. In my case, I was fighting to cover myself and not to be exposed. I want trying to protect my dignity.
On the other hand she was pushing her dress up and exposing herself. I do not understand this reaction.

What does the law say?

Article 23 of the Constitution guarantees the right to personal liberty. This right is buttressed by several substantive, procedural and remedial guarantees, including Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.
However, such a right is not absolute. It is only capable of being suspended if authorised by law. An arrest by a police officer is one of the means by which the right to personal liberty can be suspended.
We have a civic duty under Article 4(b) of the Constitution to promote public awareness of our laws. The relevant laws that prescribe the procedure are the Constitution, the Magistrate Court Act (MCA) Cap 16, the Criminal Procedure Code Act (CPCA) Cap 116, the Police Act Cap 303. These must be read together with the Public Order Management Act and the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act 2012.
Section 2 of the CPCA lays down the procedure to be followed in carrying out an arrest. A police officer is authorised to actually touch the body of the person to be arrested.
Where the accused tries to resist or evade arrest, the officer is entitled to use all the means necessary to have the accused arrested, including the use of force. However, there is nothing in the Section that justifies greater use of force than is reasonable in the particular circumstances. From the news footage, Nassimbwa was subjected to excessive force than necessary.
Police officers are also empowered under Section 10 and 11 of the CPCA to arrest suspects without a warrant of arrest in any of the following circumstances:
If any person is suspected along reasonable ground for having committed a cognizable offence or any person who commits a breach of peace in his or her presence.
However, on the basis of proper construction, for the police officer to invoke his or her powers under these sections depends on the facts of each particular case. The persons that the framers of this provision envisaged are those involved in demonstrations, protests, and fights in the police officers presence.
Under Section 23(2) and Section 72 (3) of the MCA, a female person shall only be searched by a woman. A search may be extended to stripping a body of a suspect and if this is to be done, it must be a female officer and must be done with decency (Sec. 8 of CPCA). The section by no means permits a police officer to undress the suspect.
Section 27(9) of the Police Act requires that searches be carried out in a humane manner. Unnecessary damage or destruction should be avoided.
Be mindful of Rule 24 of the Disciplinary Conduct of Police Officers, which is to the effect that a police officer is guilty of unlawful or unnecessary exercise of authority if he or she, without a good or sufficient cause, makes unlawful or unnecessary arrest.

Patrick Onyango
Public Relations Officer
Kampala Metropolitan Police

First of all, those people were holding an unlawful assembly and our duty as police is to keep law and order. The fact that political parties were invited did not mean that everyone on the street should go there.
Otherwise, every card holding member of the party in Uganda would have converged on Parliament. The Committee only invited heads of those parties.
That woman was arrested because she was committing an offence. Trying to obstruct a police officer from arresting a suspect is a crime and she had to be stopped and removed from the scene to allow the police do their work.
The policewoman who was arresting her did not carry any spray on her. No police officer carries around sprays to harm anyone, so her allegations of being sprayed with a dangerous liquid are lies.
Last week, the police received intelligence reports that the opposition were planning to hold demonstrations in the city. The plan was to go where prostitutes stay and hire them for Shs20,000 to Shs50,000 to join their demonstrations.
They had briefed the prostitutes that if police tried to arrest them, they should undress. But we foiled that plan.