By LISA VIVES
Global Information Network
As shocking images were viewed around the world of Ugandan police and soldiers beating and gassing students at the renowned Makerere University, President Yoweri Museveni was forced to acknowledge that his security forces were out of control.
“The military is not trained to quell demonstrations,” he began. “They are trained to kill. Those students are not enemies. They are young children, grandchildren who need to be guided to do the right thing.”
But his conciliatory words rang false for the student victims of tear gas and beatings. Their testimonies were heard widely on Watsup Africa and other social media.
The students at Makerere University were protesting a 15% hike in tuition. If enacted, many students already in debt would have been forced to drop out.
Others who felt the police lash were local journalists who were blocked from covering the strike. One journalist, Davidson Ndyabahika, was attacked and his camera smashed as he took photos of a policeman striking a blind student, Ndyabahika and other witnesses said.
“Uganda’s armed forces are apparently using disproportionate violence against student protests and the journalists trying to cover them,” said Oryem Nyeko, Ugandan researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government should immediately end abusive crackdowns and hold those responsible for any abuses in a fair and transparent manner.”
The police-led disturbances began on Oct. 22, when 12 female students staged a protest on campus over the higher fees. They were promptly arrested but released later that day.
Siperia Mollie Saasiraabo, a top performing student, winner of the MasterCard Foundation scholarship and one of the 12 student activists, said she had received threatening text messages telling her not to protest. The next day, Saasiraabo was reported missing and later found unconscious, without her phone. Police denied that she was abducted, and university authorities have since suspended Saasiraabo and eight other students for participating in the protest.
Later that evening, students said, soldiers stormed Lumumba Hall, a student dormitory, and attacked the residents. Soldiers indiscriminately beat students, including those with disabilities, witnesses told NTV Uganda, and destroyed their property. Some were admitted to the Makerere University Hospital with injuries. Human Rights Watch visited Lumumba Hall on Oct. 26 and saw broken doors, mirrors, and TV sets. “The government should allow students to protest peacefully and should not use excessive force to infringe on their right to protest,” Nyeko said. “The authorities should allow the media to cover these events, conduct credible and transparent investigations of the alleged abuses by security forces, and publicize the findings.”