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COVID-19 guidelines: Is police targeting the opposition?

By Paul Kiwuuwa

Added 1st September 2020 07:27 PM

“I urge security agencies to ensure that even when politicians belong to the ruling party if they go against the law, they should face it. No one is above the law.”

COVID-19 guidelines: Is police targeting the opposition?

Betty Aol Ochan

“I urge security agencies to ensure that even when politicians belong to the ruling party if they go against the law, they should face it. No one is above the law.”

The Leader of Opposition in Parliament (LOP), Betty Aol Ochan, has criticised the Police for favouring their National Resistance Movement (NRM) counterparts when implementing COVID-19 preventive guidelines.

Addressing a press briefing at Parliament over the weekend, Ochan said: "Police and other law enforcement agencies have come out openly to arrest opposition politicians, while the ruling NRM party politicians get away scot-free.

"Belonging to the ruling party (NRM) does not place anyone above the law. NRM members should instead be at the forefront of implementing the COVID-19 preventive guidelines because they were issued by the Government."

Ochan's criticism follows the arrest of Nakaseke South MP Luttamaguzi Semakula and 22 others, who were remanded to Wakyato Prison in Wakiso district allegedly for breaching COVID-19 guidelines.

Luttamaguzi was arrested in Wakasanke village on Matugga-Semuto road on Wednesday, allegedly on his way to a planned public rally in Semuto town council on Wednesday.

Other suspects who include Violet Nakalema, the Nakaseke district Woman MP aspirant, were arrested in the town council during running battles with the Police as they protested against the arrest of Luttamaguzi.  

Luttamaguzi and a section of his supporters appeared before the Nakaseke Grade One Magistrate Court and were charged with carrying out an act likely to spread COVID-19, common nuisance and unlawful procession.

Trial magistrate Milly Nankya deferred ruling on their bail application and remanded them until September 3.

"Why didn't the Police and other security agencies arrest health minister Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, who is aspiring to be the Woman MP for Lira district, but failed to implement the COVID-19 guidelines which she set when she freely interacted with the electorate last month without wearing a face mask or observing social distancing?" Ochan asked.

Aceng came under criticism early last month when a viral video where she was in a procession without a face mask and in total violation of the COVID-19 physical distancing guidelines, which she has championed since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Ochan said the Police also exonerated several other ministers, including Kampala state minister Benny Namugwanya, who allegedly addressed hundreds of people at a rally in Madudu in Mubende district.

Ochan said Police on the same weekend violently arrested Kira Municipality MP, who is also Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) spokesperson, Ssemujju Nganda while meeting his constituents, who were wearing face masks and observing social distancing.

"The state minister for investment, Evelyn Anite, flouted COVID-19 safety guidelines, but the Police did nothing about it. Her camp held a procession last month, where supporters in multitudes took to the streets to celebrate a donation of an ambulance to Koboko municipality, Koboko district.

"The state minister for microfinance Haruna Kasolo and Namugwanya also held mass campaign rallies in their constituencies during which they gathered hundreds of people together, flouting nearly all social distancing guidelines."

"I urge security agencies to ensure that even when politicians belong to the ruling party if they go against the law, they should face it. No one is above the law," she said.

GROUND NOT LEVEL

Crispin Kaheru, a renowned election observer, said: "Opposition politicians have relatively respected SOPs (standard operating procedures for prevention of COVID-19) unlike those from the NRM. "If this goes on, it is an indication that there is no leveled ground for those intending to contest.

We ask the Police to treat everyone equally. No one is above the law and they should be treated equally." Xavier Ejoyi, the country director of Action Aid, blamed government officials for the laxity in implementing the presidential guidelines on COVID-19.

To restore respect for SOPs, he said, the Government should arraign ministers before the courts of law for breaching the guidelines put in place by the health ministry to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

POLICEREACTS

Fred Enanga, the Uganda Police spokesperson, said they have intensified the enforcement of SOPs and that they will not spare any politician. He said the director operations has written to all regional and division Police Commanders, directing them to arrest whoever faults the COVID-19 SOPs. 

Failure to implement this, Enanga said, will face disciplinary action. "We have also deployed Uganda Police Professional Standards Unit to monitor the Police Stations or divisions failing to enforce the SOPs.

Those will be held accountable and disciplinary action will be taken," he said, refuting claims that the Police is partisan in implementing SOPs. "We have summoned ministers and politicians who have faulted the COVID-19 guidelines. Once investigations are concluded, we will take action guided by the law," Enanga said. 

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