The Aswa River Region Professional Standards Unit is investigating three officers attached to the Environment Police Protection Unit for alleged extortion and torture of an eye-witness.
The officers who were travelling aboard a police patrol registration number UP 55412 are said to have trailed a Fuso truck that was carrying an unidentified number of charcoal bags on Sunday, August 1, 2021 and intercepted it in Lamogi Sub-County, along the Gulu-Nimule highway.
Justine Komakech, an eyewitness said that two of the police officers disembarked from the vehicle and walked towards the truck, and asked for shs 150,000 from the occupants.
But the driver first gave them shs 70,000 and after pleading in vain, he added shs 20,000 which, however, the officers declined to receive upon realizing that some civilians were keenly watching.
“Upon realizing that some locals were watching they declined to receive the money,” Komakech said
Districts in northern Uganda banned charcoal trade as one of the measures to protect Uganda’s forest cover which was being depleted by the continued use of charcoal as the main source of fuel.
Although forests and woodland account for 15 percent of Uganda’s territory, the forest cover has dwindled from 24 per cent in the 1990s to 8 in recent years.
It’s on the basis of this ban that the environmental police arrests persons who are involved in transporting charcoal from or through districts in northern Uganda.
Komakecth recounts that the officers pulled out the driver and walked with him towards the patrol car where the third unidentified officer remained seated before forcing him to drop the money in the cabin.
He said he took some photos of what was unfolding as evidence, but while recording, one of the officers called Odongkara, a name he saw inscribed on the uniform swiftly advanced towards him with his colleague, and handcuffed him.
“They tasked me to identify myself and explain why I was taking their pictures using the phone, which they confiscated before driving away,” he said.
Komakech said they forced him to write an apology which he did before he was released; his phone was returned after deleting the pictures.
Komakech added that the following day, he called Michael Lakony, the District Chairperson and reported the incident. Lakony who accompanied the victim to Aswa River Region Police Headquarters said cases of extortion by the environmental police have been rampant in Amuru prompting him to seek redress.
The Resident District Commissioner Geoffrey Oceng Osborn condemned the officer’s actions and warned that conducting such an operation in isolation without information from the district leadership is an act of insubordination.
Evans Onigo Vuata, the Aswa River Region Police Professional Standard Unit Chief, confirmed that the accused officers were summoned on Wednesday and have recorded their statements but did not disclose their identities for fear of jeopardizing investigations.
Vuata said that another eyewitness is being awaited at the PSU offices to record his statement on what happened on that day and after.
The Police Act provides for complaints by the public against police officers. Under this law, a person is entitled, without prejudice, to make a written complaint regarding bribery, corruption, oppression or intimidation, any neglect or nonperformance or any other misconduct by a police officer.