Over 50 journalists in Lira, Northern Uganda matched to Lira Central Police Station on Thursday to demand an explanation from police of the whereabouts of their colleague Augustine Okello aka ‘Rouks’, a radio presenter who went missing last week. The match was led by their chairperson Nancy Obita and General Secretary Hudson Apunyo under Lango United Journalists Association.
The journalists delivered a petition to the different security chiefs including the District Police Commander, Resident District Commissioner, Regional Police Commander and the District Internal Security officer. However, when the journalists set off from CPS to DISO’ S office located across the road to deliver their petition, the DISO Eryaku Steven was threatened, shut his office and took off before journalists reached his office.The letter asks security officers to explain the whereabouts of the presenter who is also a student at UMCAT School of journalism-Lira Study Centre. They argued that it was unfair for the police to remain unbothered by the disappearance of the presenter and yet it is highly suspected that he was arrested by them.
Explaining to fellow journalists how ‘Rouks came to disappear, Sarah Acio, Rouks workmate at Rhino FM said: “It was at around 3pm Wednesday, last week, when Rouks received a telephone call purportedly from the DISO asking him to go and meet him at Grand Pacific Hotel in Lira Town. Since then we haven’t seen him again”. The same day, she added, the DISO called Rouks to his office where she accompanied him and they were made to sign in the visitors Book after which the DISO promised to call and meet Rouks again in the evening of the same day.
However, in an earlier interview with the victim’s wife Loretta Awor-Okello in the presence of Sarah Acio, the DISO denied having any knowledge of Rouks’ whereabouts though police sources claim that the DISO took Rouks’ unregistered motorbike to police where it was still parked by press time. At Lira Central Police Station, DPC Robert Semata told journalists’ leaders that they have now opened a general inquiry file to investigate Rouks disappearance, but he declined to answer any ensuing questions from the press. “We will avail you with the information you want by 6pm if it is ready” said the Regional Police Spokesperson for Mid North Region, Henry Alyanga.
By press time, many journalists were camped at mayors’ garden adjacent to the Central Police Station pondering on the possible way forward in case police did not divulge the information they expected. “We suspect that Okello may have been kidnapped on work-related matters as it has been the practice of government security forces. We shall fight and ensure that Okello is produced in courts of law” said Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.
HRNJ-Uganda calls on upon all foreign missions based in Uganda to put pressure on the Uganda government to release Okello from illegal detention. HRNJ-Uganda has lined up a team of lawyers to start the legal process to force government to produce Okello in court.
Meanwhile in Kibaale District, freelance journalist Ismail Kasooha was been ill-treated while covering a strike by rioting students of St. Adolf Secondary School. Kasooha, a freelance with the government-owned New Vision and Kagadi Based Community Radio (KBCR) was reportedly hit with stones by rowdy students who also pelted stones at their teachers. The irate students staged a violent strike on July 19, 2011 accusing their teachers of harassing them, giving them corporal punishments and failing to account for the examination fees. They claimed that they paid Uganda Shillings 5,000 (approx.US$2) for mock exams but were surprised when the school gave them past papers of some schools from Mukono district. The strike has led to the closure of the school until the causes of the strike are addressed by the concerned authorities as a number of innocent people fallen victims of circumstances.