Police yesterday regretted using live bullets and apologised to Ugandans for the killing of more than 50 shot dead during the recent demonstrations against the arrest of presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine.
Mr Kyagulanyi was arrested in Luuka District on November 18, sparking off protests across several towns in the country.
The apology was made by the director of Police in charge of operations, Mr Edward Ochom, at the Police headquarters in Naguru while meeting the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda.
Mr Ochom noted that the firing of live bullets to disperse crowds was uncalled for, saying that the police officers could have used teargas.
"The circumstances under which we lost those lives is really regrettable and it would have been avoided if our officers had used teargas to disperse the protesters. However, there is a scientific investigation going on to establish which guns fired the live bullets and I can assure you those officers who did will be individually held accountable," he said.
However, Mr Ochom didn't offer details on when the investigation is likely to end.
His response was triggered by a question from Archbishop Samuel Kazimba Mugalu who wondered whether there were no other means the police could use to disperse protesters.
The Archbishop expressed fears that the continuous use of live bullets could cause more deaths. He implored police officers to always have a human face while enforcing the law and desist from using an iron hand.
"Why does police use live bullets to disperse protesters yet there are other means they could use to contain the demonstrations?" he asked.
Pastor Joseph Sserwadda of Victory Chistian Centre Church in Ndeeba, a Kampala suburb, asked police to restrain from shooting at people.
"Covid-19 has not killed 50 people in one day but police recently announced that more than 50 people were killed during demonstrations against the arrest of Bobi Wine. This doesn't make sense," Pastor Sserwadda said.
In their joint communique by Sheikh Shaban Ramadhan Mubaje, the clerics noted that the ongoing electoral environment has particularly tested the professional ethics and conduct of the police force as well as the personal values of those involved in the operations.
"... we have no doubt that your response to some of the episodes has left the institution with a tainted image and scarred consciences. For instance, the roughing up of political aspirants Mohammed Segirinya and Nabila Sempala during arrest and the brutal methods of torture have left victims impaired and incapacitated," they wrote.
"It is worrying to note the growing mistrust and strained relationship between police and civilians; and not least, watch the grieving mothers and fathers on account of the loss of their relatives in circumstances where the police could have acted differently," they added.
However, Mr Ochom said some of the presidential candidates have deliberately gone ahead to defy the campaign guidelines set by the Electoral Commission to stop the spread of Covid-19.
This defiance, Mr Ochom said, compels police to take action to protect the lives of people. The police also accused the clerics of only condemning police's actions yet the same people do not speak out on hooliganism among the protestors.
The police chief of joint staff, Brig Jack Bakasumba, said whereas people have a constitutional right to demonstrate, they shouldn't infringe on the rights of others.
"Police have a mandate to enforce the law. For instance the EC gave guidelines to all candidates and they all agreed to follow them but they later defied the same guidelines... ," he said.
The clerics noted that campaigns should be conducted as earlier envisaged without rallies where the EC and Uganda Communications Commission allocates airtime to all candidates.
They further asked police to allow only 200 people at a presidential rally as per the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health.
They argued that this would be an option to open campaign rallies and meetings that have proved to be costly and difficult to manage under the Covid-19 guidelines.