New Wave of Arrests Causes Scare in City

Posted: August 3, 2007 in Blog
 
Christopher Mason, Sarah Achen Kinisi and Al-Mahdi Ssenkabirwa
KAMPALA

A NEW wave of arrests by police in Kampala has sent a chill through the city’s young and poor, who say they fear being taken into custody at any time.

The arrests, according to police, are part of an effort to clean up the city ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm), which will see delegates from all 53 Commonwealth countries, as well as the Queen, come to Uganda for one week in November.

The government has advised residents to avoid putting themselves in ”arrestable positions” but critics say the arrests are wrong and without order.
Over 600 suspects have been rounded up in the last two weeks, as police intensify their efforts. During two major operations in particular, on July 20 and 23, police arrested a total of 483 people, 139 of whom were taken to court.

Police say uniformed officers have been focusing their efforts between 3am – 6am. The most recent arrests came primarily in the city centre but there have been reports of arrests in the suburbs after dark.

Police city spokesman, Simeo Nsubuga said officers rely on intelligence reports and information from the community to decide where to carry out their operations.
A man, who preferred anonymity for fear of reprisals for speaking out, was arrested and later released in Kireka last month while walking on the street late at night.
”People are scared,” said the man. “People think that if they jail you now, you’ll be in jail until after the conference. They’re really scared.”

He added that he was transported to several prisons during his time in custody, and each time he was put in cells full of people taken into custody on charges such as drug possession, disorderly conduct and tax evasion.

”Some of them said they had not even been asked for their [identification] cards, but you cannot resist because they can beat you very badly,” he said in a voice barely above a whisper. “Some of the people I saw had been beaten very badly.”

He says he still has not seen any evidence against him. ”They weren’t even able to show me what I had been accused of having done,” he said.

The man told Daily Monitor his story from the rooftop of an apartment building in the city centre.

With a sweeping panorama of the city surrounding him, the man surveyed the view, pointing to neighbourhood after neighbourhood where he knew people who had been recently arrested under dubious circumstances.

”It has happened there, and there, and there,” he said, indicating parts of the city affected by the police campaign.

He said he is telling his story because he fears those not living and working in the markets are unaware of the extent of the campaign of arrests.
”The people who spend their days in an office and go back to their houses at night don’t know what is going on,” he said.

The man was able to get bail, but he and others say that the majority of those arrested cannot afford that expense, or a lawyer.

”When you are poor, you cannot afford a lawyer so people are sitting in cells with no way out,” said Mr Moses Nsubuga, district youth chairperson of the Kampala City District Youth Council.

The council took their concerns to the government and Chogm representatives this week at a meeting of Uganda’s youth representatives in Kampala to discuss planning for a youth forum during Chogm.

At that meeting, the Minister of state for Youth and Children’s Affairs, James Kinobe, said; “I am really sorry that the on going arrests in the city is targeting the youth, but the government cannot afford to compromise the security of the delegates,” said Mr Kinobe.

Maj. Kinobe cautioned the youths against loitering around the city if they have nothing to do, lest they risk arrest.
Democratic Party President, John Ssebaana Kizito on Tuesday also protested the ongoing arrests of people around the city.

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