Otafiire directs police to stop profiling Muslims as terrorists

Internal Affairs minister Kahinda Otafiire is welcomed by Sheikh Yunus Kamoga, the head of the Jumiat Dawatil Tabligh Al-Salafiya, at Nakivubo Blue Primary School in Kampala on June 28, 2023. Photo/Busein Samilu

What you need to know:

  • Addressing the Muslims under the Tabliq sect who gathered at Nakivubo Blue Primary School in Kampala for Eid al-Adha prayer on Wednesday, Mr Otafiire said it is not right to brand Muslims as terrorists because majority of them are good people and the holy Quran does not condone terrorism activities.
  • Makindye division mayor, Mr Ali Mulyanyama, also condemned the brutality used by security personnel while arresting Muslims suspects.

Against the backdrop of re-emerging public anxiety over the renewed threat of terrorism in Uganda, Internal Affairs minister, Maj Gen (rtd) Kahinda Otafiire, yesterday indicated that the police should stop profiling all Muslims as terrorists.

 The minister, who spoke at one of several Idd-ul-Adhuha prayers held around Kampala to celebrate the Muslim Festival of Sacrifice, described security personnel who brand some criminal suspects as terrorists just because they also happen to be Muslims as “insane”.
 “We have Muslims who are terrorists and those who are not,” he said at Nakivubo Blue Primary School where members of the Tabliq Muslim sect gathered for prayers. 

“We also have those who are thieves and those that are not and this cuts across all religions. A bad person is bad and a good one is good. My country is for good people and that is why I fight wrongdoers”. 

 “I don’t arrest Muslims. In fact, I have never arrested any Muslim in my life because by default I am also a Muslim… Those who arrest Muslims are insane, in fact they think upside down and it is their legs thinking for them,” he said.

The minister for Internal Affairs, Gen Kahinda Otafiire addressing Muslims under the Tabliq sect during the Eid al-Adha prayers in Kampala on June 28, 2023. PHOTO/PETER SSERUGO 

 Maj Gen Otafiire’s comments come in the wake of growing alarm within the Muslim community over what they see as the targeting of their members by the security services.

 It also comes against the backdrop of the horrific June 16 terrorist attack on Mpondwe-Lhubiriha Secondary School in Kasese district – in which 37 students and six villagers were bludgeoned, hacked, shot and burnt to death -- by suspected Islamist terrorists allied to the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF).
 Similar concerns about the alleged persecution of Muslims have been raised by civil society activists and human rights defenders in relation to ongoing counter-terrorism security operations.
Some of those operations are directed against Islamic extremist groups like the ADF and other al Qaeda-affiliated terror cells responsible for a string of bombings around Uganda’s capital over the past decade. 

Yesterday, Maj Gen Otafiire observed that “what I know is that Islam is not about terrorism because I also read the Holy Quran with clear interpretation”.  
“Arrest only law breakers regardless of their religion. Why arrest Muslims, Catholics, Protestants or other people? All people are good except law breakers. Stop categorising all Muslims as terrorists,” the minister said.

 Moments before he spoke, Makindye city division mayor, Mr Ali Kasirye Nganda MulyaNyama, had asked the government to stop discrimination against Muslims.
 “Our children make up the biggest percentage in prisons and yet their case files are not being handled compared to others. Let the Director Public .

Prosecutions [expedite] the cases. If they have cases to answer let them be sentenced and those that are innocent released like she did with the mabati suspects (ministers and officials named in the Karamoja iron sheets theft scandal),” he said. 
“We are Muslims, but just like other people, we commit crimes. Our dismay is at the way security officials manhandle us during arrest. For example, how can you send a junior officer to arrest a high profile figure like Sheikh Kamoga? We deserve some respect,” he added.

 The minister pledged government’s support to the community and said individual officers implicated in abuses against Muslims are being dealt with.
 “Fight for Islam when someone attacks the five pillars, namely; believing in Allah, prayers [Swalat], zakat, fasting and going to Mecca. You are always blaming [President] Museveni. Has he ever stopped you from believing in one God? Did he stop you from praying? He contributes to zakat, takes Muslims to Mecca, breaks the fast of those in fasting; he is a good friend of Muslims,” he said.

Female Muslims during Idd prayers at Mityana Central Mosque on June 28, 2023. Photo/Noeline Nabukenya

 Early this month, security personnel from the police and the army were reported to have staged a brutal raid on the Kawempe home of Sheikh Yunus Kamoga, the head of the Jumiat Dawatil Tabligh Al-Salafiya Muslim sect.  

The raid, in which several young men were indiscriminately clobbered with gun butts, kicked and forced to crawl over rugged concrete drew widespread condemnation from human rights defenders as unwarranted torture. Police, however, maintained that the operation aimed at stopping the alleged unlawful confinement of children and youths.

 Sheikh Kamoga, who spoke briefly at yesterday’s prayers, also called upon the government to respect all people and only arrest wrongdoers instead of indiscriminately profiling every Muslim as a terrorist.
 “We can work together and build our country together. You all know what is going on which I won’t repeat,” he said.

 Last evening, police spokesperson Fred Enanga said: “The protocol is clear, police is supervised by the minister. So if he made such a comment, I cannot come out to issue a counter statement… he is the Minister for Internal Affairs.”
 Mr Enanga has always refuted claims that Muslims are being arrested based on their religion, saying that all arrests are intelligence-led and the police’s mandate is to arrest whoever investigations lead to.
 Judiciary spokesperson Jameson Karemani also denied discrimination against Muslims within the justice system.

 “As the Judiciary, we have cases of people, not cases of Muslims or any other religion. Therefore, if there are delays, they are delays like it is with cases of other people and they are caused by the known reasons -- especially lack of both human and financial resources,” he said.

 Dr Livingstone Ssewanyana, the executive director of Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, blamed the perceived targeting of Muslims on a “perception of Muslims being criminals [which] is largely an ideological fallacy because everyone is prone to commit crime”.

 “I think Muslims are largely witch-hunted basically because they are … assertive. So, every time they confront the authorities, they are witch-hunted.  Muslims are not criminals in their nature because Islam is all about peace,” he said.