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Arrests should be by and within the law

The Constitution and other laws governing arrests in Uganda have virtually been disregarded by security agencies.

It also appears the Uganda Police Force, which is mandated to arrest offenders or suspects, has reluctantly abdicated its duty to another force. Almost all individuals who are arrested arbitrarily are neither given an explanation for their arrest nor shown warrants of arrest.

The arresters don’t have the decency to state the offence committed or tell victims where they are being taken so that family and lawyers are informed as required by the Constitution. Instead, these gun-wielding men hiding their faces under dark eyeglasses ferry their victims like stolen wild animals. The victims of these arbitrary arrests are usually crammed in dodgy vehicles with dark tinted windows.

They use unreasonable force to ensure victims are subdued. The Police Act and Criminal Procedures Code Act give powers to police to arrest without a warrant in certain circumstances such as, if a police officer has reasonable suspicion that a crime is about to be committed.

An ordinary person is also given powers by the same laws to arrest an offender and hand him or her to the nearest police station or magistrate. However, what is happening these days is that unidentifiable men who move in imperceptible vehicles can pounce on anyone and literally “abduct” that person in the name of national security.

This is reminiscent of the dark days of 1970s-80s where the infamous State Research Bureau (SRB) operatives falsely accused people, dumped them in car trunks and whisked them to unknown places.

The trouble of giving these security operatives carte blanche powers to arrest and detain as they wish is that, unscrupulous people both in the forces and the underworld might take advantage. Security men who might have a score to settle with any person may use that unqualified ‘privilege’ to create a personal jail for their enemies. Kidnappers or murderers may too take advantage and pounce on any prey and kidnap for a ransom.

The manner in which pastor and journalist Joseph Kabuleta was arrested and detained typified the impunity with which security agencies conduct themselves in pursuit of national duties.

If it is true that Kabuleta offended the Computer Misuse Act and also annoyed the person of the president, then the right thing to do was for police to investigate and then order identifiable detectives to arrest and produce Kabuleta before courts of law. Instead, he was arrested by unidentified men and detained beyond the constitutional 48 hours. Worst, his wife and lawyer were denied access to him.

How can the police break one law in order to enforce another? This is also strange given that the Inspector General of Police Okoth Martin Ochola only recently wrote an internal memorandum to all police units cautioning them against torturing people within their custody. He also warned that the new Human Rights (Enforcement) Act had introduced personal liability for officers who abuse citizens’ rights.

Ugandan law provides for a limitation period regarding detention of a suspect up to 48 hours. Ordinarily, this means that upon arrest, a person must be brought before court within 48 hours and if not should be released from custody.

Those in charge of the country’s security need to understand that citizens’ liberty can only be curtailed under justifiable conditions which are universally acceptable in a democratic society. Ugandans need to enjoy their country; let us not turn the country into a wild west, where the first to pull the triggers reigns.

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