KAMPALA (Reuters) - The response by Ugandan police to rioting in the capital Kampala last week was “completely unwarranted”, an influential rights group said.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had received reports of police going house-to-house and removing people from their homes, and witnessed truckloads of unarmed men being beaten.
“We have been very concerned about police brutality, the police response, the use of live ammunition, for example, in situations which didn’t warrant it (and) severe beatings of men who were not armed,” HRW research Maria Burnett told Reuters.
Violence broke out in Kampala on Thursday, triggered by land and power disputes between the government and leaders of Buganda -- one of the east African country’s four ancient kingdoms.
At least 14 people, including a member of the security forces, died and scores were injured in three days of clashes in the centre and outlying districts. Kampala was quiet on Sunday.
Police chief Kale Kayihura told reporters on Saturday the security forces had arrested 550 suspects during the unrest. He also said some officers had overreacted after coming under attack early on Saturday in some districts of the capital.
“The thugs pelted the officers with stones and other missiles, and some officers, apparently, overreacted by opening fire in a bid to disperse the criminal gangs,” he said.
East Africa’s third biggest economy has been hailed for its political and economic stability over the last two decades following years of civil war during the 1970s and 80s.
President Yoweri Museveni has been admired for fiscal reforms and poverty alleviation. But critics, including some Western donors, accuse him of rights abuses and repression. The next presidential elections are due in 2011.
Burnett said the Ugandan police had a history of using heavy force to quell unrest.
In April, HRW published a report accusing Uganda’s anti-terrorism unit of unlawfully detaining more than 100 people over the past two years and brutally torturing 25 suspects. It said four had died from their injuries.
“We have always been concerned here in Uganda about the problem of both police brutality, but also the use of torture and detention as a tactic to crack down on free speech and journalism,” Burnett told Reuters.
“Radio stations have been shut down in several instances.”
The government has cracked down on media outlets since the riots erupted.
Four local stations were taken off the air after Uganda’s police chief said the violence had been inflamed by “sectarian” radio broadcasts. The Ugandan Broadcasting Council also ordered several prominent TV and radio talkshow hosts to be suspended.