Security on the spot over curfew brutality

Some of the police officers who were charged with beating people during the lockdown appear before Gulu Chief Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday. PHOTO BY TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY

Mr Lameck Odongo had for the last six years been running a thriving retail business in Oriye ‘A’ Village, Anwangi Parish, Nambieso Sub-county in Kwania District.

The 38-year-old would make Shs150,000 as profit daily on a good day but all that changed last week.

When Mr Odongo opened his shop to pick onions on April 4, soldiers allegedly descended on him, and beat him.

They were in the area to enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew announced by government as part of a series of comprehensive measures aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Odongo attempted to flee but these soldiers chased after him and upon catching him, they started beating him and later picked Shs72,000 from his pocket,” Mr Ambrose Ojok, a witness, told Daily Monitor on Tuesday.

He added: “The man was wailing and his neighbours made an alarm which attracted a crowd. When the soldiers saw people coming, they abandoned Odongo, picked their motorbike and disappeared.”

Mr Odongo was then taken to a nearby clinic for treatment. However, Mr Ojok said the nurse who attended to him didn’t give him any treatment.

“Instead the nurse advised Odongo to lie down with his back on the floor so that the mark of the wire that he sustained from the beatings could turn into a wound in order for her to treat it,” he added.
Today, Mr Odongo is recovering from home.

Mr Salim Komakech, the Resident District Commissioner, said he was not yet aware of the incident.

Public call
Mr Komakech, who is also the head of the security, urged the public to report any act of lawlessness by security operatives to his office.
“Anybody with any complaint should come and report to my office. My door is open to everybody and we want the rights of people to be protected while carrying out operations,” he said.

Police in the district are also in the spotlight over allegations of raiding people’s homes and firing teargas recklessly.
Ms Sarah Ogwal, a resident of Aduku Township cell, alleged that a police officer fired teargas in her house last week.
“I came out of the house to pour dirty water and I saw this police officer standing by the roadside, but when I returned inside, he fired teargas at my door,” she said.

Another victim Janet Apio said her two-year-old epileptic child is still in a bad state after in haling teargas.

“I was already in my bed with my two children but when he (police officer) fired the teargas, my child, who is also suffering from epilepsy, experienced difficulties in breathing and he is not feeling well,” Ms Apio said.

Mr Jimmy Uhuru, the chairperson of Aduku Township cell, confirmed that the law enforcers were using excessive force to enforce Covid-19-related restrictions.

“I went to the home of that woman whose child inhaled the teargas and I saw the teargas canister. I have received many complaints that some police officers are misbehaving,” Mr Uhuru said.

Ms Edith Basalirwa, the district police commander, said she had not received the complaints but pledged to investigate the matter.
“I didn’t know about that. I don’t even allow them to carry teargas [canisters] but I will investigate this matter to logical conclusion,” she said.

Following reports of brutality among enforcement officers, President Museveni announced that errant Local Defence Unit (LDUs) personnel engaged in beating Ugandans would be handed heavy disciplinary action.

The President instructed Lt Col Edith Nakalema, the head of State House Anti-Corruption Unit, to rein in on such behaviour.
The President reiterated his call to Ugandans to adhere to simple personal hygiene measures such as washing hands with soap and water and avoiding touching oneself in the face.

Meanwhile, police in Lira District have arrested one of their own for allegedly stealing two motorcycles.
The suspect, who is attached to Starch Factory Outpost, Adyel Division in Lira Municipality, was arrested together with his son on Tuesday.

It is reported that two motorcycles were impounded last week following the President’s directives on Covid-19 pandemic.
The motorcycles were later taken to Starch Factory Police Outpost as exhibits but disappeared on Monday night.
Mr Michael Odongo, the North Kyoga regional police spokesperson, said they arrested the policemen to help in investigations since the motorcycles disappeared under their watch.

Police officer shoots one
In Bududa, police are investigating circumstances under which the officer-in-charge of Bududa Central Police Station allegedly shot a resident during an operation to enforce presidential directives.

Police identified the victim as Desmond Kuloba, 28, a resident of Bugembe Village in Bududa Sub-county.
Mr Rogers Taitika, the Elgon Region police spokesperson, said investigations indicate that victim was shot after being found in a group taking malwa, a local brew.

“Upon seeing the police officers, some of them took off but the victim remained sipping. This could have prompted the police officer to shoot the victim in the right leg,” he said.

Mr Taitika added that the injured resident was taken to Bududa hospital and later referred to Mbale hospital.
“The officer in question has been suspended. We have also launched investigations into the matter,” he said.
Mr Wilson Watira, the district chairperson, accused the police officers of using excessive force to enforce the presidential directives.

In Namutumba, boda boda cyclists have accused police of soliciting bribes from them during the ongoing lockdown.

The cyclists raised the allegation during a sensitisation meeting about hand-washing and using sanitizers to avoid contracting Covid-19. “We are not defying the presidential directives which bar us from carrying passengers, but police have resorted to arbitrarily impounding motorcycles carrying cargo so as to solicit money,” a boda boda rider said.

Another, who requested for anonymity, said police had veered from their mandate of investigating capital cases and were instead using the lockdown to defraud them. “They are charging Shs300,000 for every motorcycle impounded and Shs100,000 as police bond for every motorist detained,” he claimed.

Mr Mathias Lukiko, another cyclist, said people claiming to be spies within the force also extort money from them. However, Ms Rashida Naluzi, the officer-in-charge of criminal investigations and intelligence at Namutumba Police Station, refuted the claims, saying bond is free.
Mr Amos Ssempala Kigozi, the Resident District Commissioner, said security and residents were cooperating to implement the presidential directives.

Reported by Bill Oketch, Santo Ojok, Charity Akullo & Ronald Seebe