By ISAAC BALIGEMA
I have always wanted to write about life in detention but I had never had the ‘opportunity’ to be behind bars. My long wait, however, ended on Valentine’s night (about 1:00am of Feb 15) while I was driving from a party at Muyenga, a city suburb, to my home in Namugongo. As I approached the Mukwano Industries roundabout, a traffic policeman stopped me. I was shocked that as soon as I stopped, I was surrounded by four plainclothed men who later turned out to be breakdown truck drivers.
The policeman asked if I had taken any alcohol, to which I replied that I had taken two bottles of beer. He took me by the hand about 10 metres away to be tested with a breathalyser. But before I could get tested, the breakdown guys were already towing my car! The policeman spent about 10 minutes pressing the machine and I begged to know what he was pressing, but he did not respond.
After about 15 minutes, he asked me to blow into the machine as other motorists waited in the queue. The machine read my content as 46.6% and after the results, I was treated like a murderer. I was bundled up by two policemen and two breakdown drivers and I was arrested. I asked to access my phone in the car to communicate to my wife, but I was not permitted. Meanwhile, the breakdown truck towed my car to Kampala Central Police Station. I was dragged to the cell right away. I requested to be re-tested, but I was ignored.
The Bribing starts I had sh522,000 on me and I recorded it. However, the policewoman who was taking records told me to remain with sh2,000. “They will disturb you, if you don’t go in with some money,” she said. On being thrown into the cell, I was approached by four mean-looking men (they looked high on weed) who searched me thoroughly.
They found the sh2,000 and took it. They then asked for sh20,000 in exchange for ‘peace in the cells.’ When I chose to have peace, they called the policewoman. When she came back, she angrily asked them why they were disturbing her; they told her that I had agreed to give them sh20,000; she quickly opened the cell and took me to the office where my possessions were kept, to sign for the ‘cell bosses’ money.
She, however, advised that I should give them sh10,000. When she took the sh10,000, she told me to give her sh5,000 and take the balance to the ‘cell management’. This happened to every detainee who came after me that night and the following day. About 30 people were brought in after me. One detainee who refused to ‘cooperate’ was beaten and his head was pushed into the toilet before he finally agreed to give them sh10, 000.
I felt lucky not to have gone through all that n Phones in the Cell Despite the fact that every captive is told to declare his/her properties, some manage to bribe the Police and sneak in phones. These people freely send policemen to buy them airtime and other items, like they are sending their houseboys. Meanwhile, the captives with phones hire them out at sh1,000 per minute and policemen help them transact business on their behalf. The detainees are there for a whole range of crimes: drink driving, murder, theft, street fighting, all in one cell. The room for female detainees is just adjacent to the males’. Many male detainees prefer the spot near the female cell.
Some interact with them and even ask for their phone numbers. The cell is divided into sections: Serena (super executive), Sheraton (executive), Kisenyi (ordinary) and Katanga (super ordinary). You can stay in any of the four sections depending on your ‘cooperation’ with the ‘cell management’. Serena has mattresses and blankets, Sheraton has only blankets, Kisenyi has nothing while Katanga is very close to the toilets and the stench is terrible.
Detainees stay longer than 48 hours
Even though it is against the law for the Police to detain anyone for more than 48 hours without charge, at CPS, there are suspects who have been in the cells for weeks and months.
Meddie Male, a taxi driver, said he was arrested over two weeks ago, but he had not been taken to court. Two other men said they had lost hope of ever being taken to court because they had been in detention for four months.
Who owns the breakdown trucks?
Even though most breakdown trucks are in dangerous mechanical condition, they freely park at Police stations. I was ordered to pay sh95, 000 for the breakdown services because my car was towed from Mukwano Roundabout. In the process, my car was badly scratched because the breakdown service men tow cars recklessly. I spent sh80,000 to spray the damaged part. I think the Police should pay for damages in case someone’s car gets damaged. When I got the car the following day, several of my documents, including my O’level certificate, two ATM cards, birth certificate and others were missing.I realised that someone had searched the car.
Motorists unaware of the prohibited alcohol levels
Many of the drink-driving detainees did not know the prohibited alcohol levels.
Officers on the lookout for bribes
When I was given a release order, an unidentified policeman, who was waiting outside the cell, approached us, saying he could help me get my car as well, if I could get him ‘tea.’ I asked him how much and told me sh20,000 would be enough! I had wanted my colleague to take a picture while I gave the bribe, but he missed the shot. The cop immediately disappeared in the corridors. Unfortunately, his uniform was not labelled and I couldn’t trace him thereafter.
Many other officers kept coming to me, asking for money until one traffic policewoman (Lady Afande) asked me for sh100,000 if I wanted my car. She led me to an office where I handed her the money while her colleague watched. We moved down together where car keys are kept and she asked me to sign for the car. The policeman who kept the car keys demanded for ‘soda’ before handing them over; I handed him sh7,000. Lady Afande walked me to my car and told me to drive away immediately. It was here that I discovered that two of the chicken that were in my boot had died.
Breathalyzer tests explained
35 or below Suspect is within the maximum legal prescribed limit of 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath. Between 36 and 39 Although the legal limit is 35 microgrammes of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, suspects with breath test readings between 36 & 39 should be released with caution or without charge. This is because the standard prosecution limit is 40.
Between 40 & 50 The (UK) Road Traffic Act 1988 grants suspects the right to request that the specimen of breath provided be replaced with an alternative specimen for analysis (blood or urine). This is known as the statutory option. 51 or higher In cases where evidential breath test results are 51 or higher, suspects will be charged accordingly.
Unreliable results: In cases where there is a significant difference between the two breath test results provided, the results will be deemed unreliable and an alternative specimen for analysis (blood or urine) may then be required. However, an alternative evidential breath testing device could be used, instead, if one is available.