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Kampala. Ugandan police say they regret using live bullets and have apologised to Ugandans for the killing of more than 50 people who were shot dead during recent demonstrations against the arrest of presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine.
The Ugandan popstar-cum-politician was arrested in Luuka District on November 18, sparking protests across several towns in the country.
The apology was made by the director of Police in charge of operations, Mr Edward Ochom, at the Police headquarters in Naguru yesterday while meeting the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda.
Mr Ochom noted that the firing of live bullets to disperse crowds was uncalled for, saying that police officers could have used teargas instead.
“The circumstances under which we lost those lives is really regrettable and it would have been avoided if our officers had used teargas to disperse the protesters. However, there is a scientific investigation going on to establish which guns fired the live bullets and I can assure you those officers who did will be individually held accountable,” he said.
However, Mr Ochom didn’t offer details on the scope of the investigation and when it is likely to end.
His response was triggered by a question from Archbishop Samuel Kazimba Mugalu, who wondered whether there were no other means the police could have used to disperse protesters.
The Archbishop expressed fears that the continuous use of live bullets could cause more deaths. He implored police officers to always have a human face while enforcing the law and desist from being heavy handed.
“Why do police use live bullets to disperse protesters yet there are other means they could use to contain the demonstrations?” he wondered.
Pastor Joseph Sserwadda of Victory Chistian Centre Church in Ndeeba, a Kampala suburb, also asked police to refrain from shooting at people.
“Covid-19 has not killed 50 people in one day but police recently announced that more than 50 people were killed during demonstrations against the arrest of Bobi Wine. This doesn’t make sense,” Pastor Sserwadda said.
In their joint communique by Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje, the religious clerics noted that the country's electoral climate has tested the professional ethics and conduct of the police force, as well as the personal values of those involved in the operations.
“…we have no doubt that your response to some of the episodes has left the institution with a tainted image and scarred consciences. For instance, the roughing up of political aspirants Mohammed Segirinya and Nabila Sempala during arrest and the brutal methods of torture have left victims impaired and incapacitated,” they wrote.
“It is worrying to note the growing mistrust and strained relationship between police and civilians, and not least, watch the grieving mothers and fathers on account of the loss of their relatives in circumstances where the police could have acted differently,” they added.
However, Mr Ochom said some of the presidential candidates have deliberately gone ahead to defy the campaign guidelines set by the Electoral Commission to stop the spread of Covid-19.
This defiance, Mr Ochom said, compels police to take action to protect the lives of people. The police also accused the clerics of only condemning police action but did not speak out against hooliganism among protestors.
The police chief of joint staff, Brig Jack Bakasumba, said that whereas people have a constitutional right to demonstrate, they shouldn’t infringe on the rights of others.
“Police have a mandate to enforce the law. For instance the EC gave guidelines to all candidates and they all agreed to follow them but they later defied the same guidelines,” he said.
Report by Amos Ngwomoya