Uganda: Police Brutality – Juniors Cry Foul Over Selective Punishment

Junior police officers want senior commanders charged for ordering the beating of Dr Besigye supporters, writes JOHNSON TAREMWA.

The charging in the police disciplinary court of only lowly-ranked police officers in the beating of Col Kizza Besigye's supporters in Kampala last week has angered the rank and file in the force.

On Monday, five junior officers and one crime preventer captured on camera appeared before the court to answer two counts of unlawful or excessive use of authority contrary to the Police Act and discreditable or irregular conduct. They were later released on police bond. The accused are Willy Kalyango, 25, Sula Kato, 43, Kennedy Muhangi, 38, Moses Agaba, 33, Robert Wanjala and Dan Tandeka, 33.

The chairman of the court, Denis Odongopiny, read the charges. On conviction, the officers face dismissal from the force or demotion. However, the appearance in court of only lowly-ranked policemen has angered their colleagues who felt their bosses should have been arraigned and also charged.

Police chief Kale Kayihura last week castigated his senior commanders and ordered an investigation into the conduct of five of them. Interestingly, the commanders under scrutiny appeared alongside Kayihura during the July 14 press conference at Naguru.

They included Andrew Kagwa, the regional police commander for Kampala East, James Ruhweza, who heads operations in Kampala Metropolitan; Kampala North regional police commander Wisely Nganizi and his deputy Geoffrey Kahebwa.

Moses Nanoka, the Wandegeya division police commander, was also there. Captain Eric Kagina, the head of investigations in Special Forces Command (SFC), recorded a statement with the Professional Standards Unit.

But when it came to court, only lowly-ranked officers were arraigned and charged. Some of the police officers interviewed after the Naguru court hearing on Monday said it was wrong and unfair to punish only junior officers.

"I don't see the reason why officers were charged because the IGP had praised his commanders for beating FDC supporters and why now charge his juniors in court?" one senior police officer said.

He added that Gen Kayihura should have shielded the juniors from court as well. "Why do you defend the commanders and charge the juniors yet they all work for the same force?" he added.

He said the commanders who issued the orders, which the juniors followed, must be held accountable. "The juniors can be charged for disobeying lawful orders, but not implementing lawful orders," one officer in the force's legal department said.

"First of all, in police we work on orders and command and those officers who were charged worked on orders and incase the order is criticized, the one who issued it takes the blame," the same officer said.

The officer added that if juniors are punished or charged in court for implementing their bosses' orders, that means they are telling them to resign from the force.

Interviewed shortly after court, one sergeant said, "Our bosses ordered our colleagues to beat the FDC supporters and they implemented the order; why charge them, and not the bosses?"

"We don't have justice in the force because if we disobey lawful orders from our superiors, it is a serious offence in the force and now if we implement lawful orders from our bosses, we are also charged; so, where are we safe in the force?" another junior officer said.

OPPOSITION SPEAKS

Interviewed for a comment yesterday, Wafula Oguttu, an FDC official and former leader of opposition in Parliament, said by telephone: "We expected commanders and Kayihura in court because they issued orders of beating our supporters and now why are they charging the juniors who were innocent?" he said.

He said the videos the party has, show Aaron Baguma, the divisional police commander for Kampala Central police station, and Andrew Kagwa, the regional police commander for Kampala South, beating people yet they did not appear in court.

"If police fears to charge the commanders, we shall take them on as individuals in public courts because we have evidence against them."

Kayihura came out strongly last week to condemn the actions of some officers and defend his commanders after a public outcry in the aftermath of the beatings. Speaking during a hastily-convened press conference Gen Kayihura said police had opted for batons and water cannons as the tools of choice for dispersing demonstrators instead of tear gas, live and rubber bullets.

Interviewed for a comment on the charging of only junior officers, Polly Namaye, the deputy spokesperson, said the disciplinary court of police only tries officers from the rank of Constable to Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP).

She said the disciplinary court cannot punish officers at the rank of Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) and above. To do so, it must get the nod of approval from the Police Authority, which is headed by an Assistant Inspector General of Police, the third-highest-ranking officer in the force.

Most of the police commanders under investigation are at the rank of assistant superintendent of police to assistant commissioner, which places them outside the jurisdiction of the police court.

Source: The Observer.

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