Under the cover of darkness, another office that exercises civil rights – media freedoms – was broken into on Saturday October 15, 2016. This time, it was not an NGO. It was a media house – the Observer newspaper.
The assailants raided and ransacked the newsroom and other departments making away with at least 15 desktop computers, several laptops and other sensitive information.
The premises, located on Tagore Crescent in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb, were protected by a private security firm. However, after the break-in, the guard was nowhere to be seen. He had gone AWOL. Abandoned at the crime scene, his gun was found unattended.
As it ought to be, the management of the paper reported the attack to Kira Road Police Station and the private security firm that was contracted to guard the office.
In a familiar pattern, police officers visited the crime scene to conduct investigations.
The hope now is that the police can trace the perpetrators of the attack and establish their motive.
With benefit of hindsight – call it being pessimistic, I am inclined to ask myself whether that would be to expect too much. It may be ridiculous, but an incontrovertible fact.
In Uganda, it has become commonplace that offices of groups working on sensitive issues such as human rights are broken into and nothing meaningful ever happens.
Break-ins happen, critical information is stolen, property vandalized, security guard gets killed in some instances, the crime is reported to police, CID officers visit the scene and that’s just almost about it. You don’t hear anything more. Nada.
No arrests, no prosecutions, no comprehensive investigation reports. Chances are that if you ever hear from police again, it may involve strange baseless allegations that are not backed by evidence; such as, the break-in could be an inside job.
In the meantime, we forget and move on; as the assailants plot to strike again.
In the past 4 years alone, more than 30 break-ins into premises of NGOs have been documented. These incidents were reported to police but none of the cases has been conclusively handled to bring perpetrators to book. The motives behind the attacks have never been established. Not even CCTV video footage or blood samples have made a difference.
After the February 2016 polls, Presidential Candidate Amama Mbabazi filed a petition in the Supreme Court to challenge the results. As his legal team worked tooth and nail to put together evidence to support their case, chambers of the lead lawyers in the legal team were raided.
Fingers were pointed at possible inside job. After the soundbites, it all went silent. To date, we do not really know what happened that night.
And so, we move on.
After the break-in at Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum during which a security guard was killed in cold blood, allegations were again floated around of how it could be an inside job.
This raid at the Observer comes on the heels of an arguably frosty relationship between the local media and Members of Parliament over ‘negative coverage’.
Was it an attack for it’s editorial policies – media freedoms? Was it an act of common criminality?
How shall we know for sure without credible and expeditious investigations? Who benefits in the absence of legal action to reveal the perpetrators?
It is very fundamental that the police move fast to get to the bottom of this attack and other documented office break-ins to establish the motive and perpetrators.
Failure to do so is tacit approval of the break-ins. It breeds impunity and indicates that authorities condone and tolerate such targeted attacks.