By Francis Emorut
KAMPALA - The permanent secretary of the ministry of gender, labour and social development, Pius Bigirimana, has disepelled claims that a leading women activist was arrested on his orders.
He has also gone on to criticize women rights activists for being “redundant” over recent remarks they made over the alleged arrest of their colleague.
The PS made the remarks in response to accusations by the women activists who protested the reported arrest of Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET) executive director, Rita Aciro on his orders, saying it was an act of intimidation.
According to activists, Aciro was arrested by the Police on orders of Bigirimana when she attended a meeting for United Nations Joint Programme on Gender Equality (UNJPGE) with gender officials.
When contacted for a comment, Bigirimana burst into laughter and said: “Those people [women activists] are redundant. They don’t have anything to do.”
He denied that Aciro was arrested.
“The truth of the matter is there was no arrest. There was no mishandling. It is a lie there was nobody who arrested her,” he told New Vision on phone.
The gender ministry PS argued that women activists were not in the meeting since he was the one chairing it and the director of gender and community development, Jane Mpagi, is the one who asked Aciro to vacate the meeting.
“When she came in I asked Mpagi who that woman (Aciro) was and whether she was invited. As the chairman of the steering committee I never invited her,” he said.
He explained that after the meeting he went to the office and chatted with Aciro and that she even apologized.
Bigirimana is alleged to have asked Aciro why she had come to ‘disorganize' the meeting and demanded her to apologize on the remarks made during a press conference last year denouncing his appointment.
‘Attack in personality’
“The permanent secretary questioned her presence at the meeting which she had been invited to. Her phone was taken away. During this time he expressed his grievance over a press conference held in May 2013 by the Women’s and youth movement as well as civil society organizations to denounce the appointment of persons implicated in corruption scandals to public offices,” Irene Ovonji, the chief executive officer FIDA-Uganda, said.
Gender ministry PS Pius Birigimana denies UWONET's Rita Aciro was arrested
The activists expressed their displeasure on the manner their own was reportedly arrested in what they termed as detention incommunicado.
“While detained Aciro could not make contact with her lawyer as requested since her phone had been taken away. In addition, the lawyers present from FIDA-Uganda to represent her at the ministry were denied access to her,” they said in a joint statement.
“We are dismayed when women’s movement raises issues of public concern it is seen as an attack on personality,” Solome Nakaweesi Kimbugwe said.
She said this was an attempt to silence women on critical issues affecting society.
Justus Rugambwa, the executive director of DENIVA, pointed out that the ghosts of OPM scandals were still following the gender ministry.
“What we are managing now are those ghosts. It’s the first time a public officer orders for an arrest of an individual. It’s a sad situation,” he said.
The activists expressed their concern during a media briefing in Kampala on Friday.
“An attack on one of us is a testament of continued narrowing of space on issues of democracy and governance,” said Patricia Munaabi, the executive director of Forum for Women in Democracy.
The activists demanded a written apology on the attack of women’s movement and urged the Police to refrain from being used for personal vendettas.
They also want government to take action on the abuse of office by public servants.
Aciro was released following the intervention of UWOPA chairperson Betty Amongi.