Brave for more police brutality, warns rights body

Police officers drag FDC presidential flag bearer Dr Kizza Besigye to a police vehicle after he was arrested at his home in Kasangati, Wakiso district on Thursday. Photo by Abubaker Lubowa

Police brutality against opposition supporters in Uganda is on the rise ahead of elections due next year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned Thursday.

Opposition supporters and activists "risk beatings, arrest, or worse," said Maria Burnett of the New York-based advocacy group, as momentum grows in the run-up to the vote next February.

"Uganda's police brutality consistently favours the incumbent," Burnett added.

The police is notorious for its use of tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray and batons when confronting opponents of President Yoweri Museveni, who next year will mark three decades in power, HRW said.

His main opponent is three-time contender Dr Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) who has himself been arrested, beaten and teargassed on numerous occasions in the past.

In a recent example cited by HRW, a female FDC supporter at a political protest in Rukungiri in western Uganda was snatched from the crowd by police, manhandled, partially stripped and flung into a truck.

The incident on Saturday sparked outrage on social media, but it has had little impact on police actions.

Ms Maria Burnett of Human Rights Watch

On Wednesday, women protesting her rough treatment in the capital Kampala were themselves pepper-sprayed and kettled by officers.

"(The) Ugandan police's handling of public order management has been a source of serious human rights violations over recent years," said Burnett.

Police have in the past also used live fire to disperse opposition rallies deemed illegal.

HRW warning comes barely a day after police arrested and detained Dr Besigye and FDC party spokesperson Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda under what they (police) described as “preventive arrest”, a colonial era mechanism under which pro-independence activists used to be either held or banished to far flung outposts.