KAMPALA- The growing criticism of the police brutal crackdown on the political Opposition has prompted the police chief, Gen Kale Kayihura, to launch a government inter-agency media campaign to redeem the police’s public and international image, Saturday Monitor has learnt.
The first meeting of the agencies that reportedly include Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), Uganda Media Centre, the Media Council, Uganda Communications Commission, Ministry of Information and National Guidance, Ministry of Information Communications Technology (ICT) and the police took place this week on Tuesday and Wednesday at police headquarters in Kampala.
A source privy to the discussion at the two-day closed door meeting, said Gen Kayihura told the meeting that claims of police brutality were all propaganda calculated to harm the image of the police force and the entire country.
He also reportedly told the meeting that he was unhappy that senior officers from the invited departments had stayed away from the meeting and instead sent their juniors to represent them.
The agencies represented at the meeting reportedly agreed on, among other things, to use their teams and social media platforms to defend government institutions whenever “negative messages” about their actions come up.
Deputy police spokesperson Polly Namaye confirmed the establishment of the Inter-Agency Team headed by Gen Kayihura to handle public relations for the police.
Other organisations that did not attend but are reportedly part of this inter-agency team include: External Security Organisation (ESO), Internal Security Organisation (ISO), UPDF, Media Council, Uganda Prisons, and Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration Control.
“It is made up of communication officers and political commissariats from different government organs,” Ms Namaye said.
Asked what the committee discussed at the meeting, Ms Namaye said she had not attended the proceedings to know what had transpired but questioned the Saturday Monitor’s interest in knowing the details. She insisted “these were security matters.”
Army spokesperson, Lt Col Paddy Ankunda, when contacted said he was not aware of the inter-agency meeting at police headquarters and that he was out of the country.
On October 10, 2015, police officers were captured on camera appearing to undress Forum for Democratic Change activist Zaina Fatuma as they arrested her at Kanyaryeru on Masaka-Mbarara highway after police had blocked the FDC party presidential flag bearer Kizza Besigye from proceedings to his home district of Rukungiri for consultations in the race for 2016 elections.
Since the incident and the subsequent events, police has come under intense criticism here and abroad for what has been described as the force’s high-handedness against the Opposition and abuse of human rights.
Police denies that their officers undressed the woman and instead counter-claimed that the media edited the video footage of the incident to suit the Opposition agenda. They say the woman undressed herself as a form of political protest.
In the heat of the criticism, IGP Kayihura came out to warn the media that police would crack down on journalists whom he said have turned into political activists by giving live coverage to Opposition events.
Gen Kayihura singled out NTV, which he accused of being partisan because of their continuous coverage of opposition events and said he would take action against what he claimed is “unethical behaviour.”
The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR, a United Nations rights body, last week called for independent investigations into the “undressing incident” and other allegations of excessive use of force and degrading treatment by police officers.
“…of particular concern are allegations that a woman was publicly stripped by police officers as she was being arrested. We urge the government to promptly launch an independent investigation into this and other related incidents and to hold accountable any officers who may have used excessive force or subjected individuals to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment…,” Uchenna Emelonye, country representative of UN-OHCHR, said in a statement.