The truth about viral photos on social media about Lira food vendors’ arrest


Mothers who vend fruits climbing a prison truck last month. Photo by Hudson Apunyu.

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Over the last twelve hours, Lira and Lango sub-region trended on social media drawing attention of the whole country following alleged case of human rights violations in regard to the implementation of the curfew guidelines.

This followed a series of widely calculated photos on nearly every social media platform across the country, especially top-notch WhatsApp groups alleging that over a hundred women, majority of them food and fruit vendors, were arrested on Saturday 9th May and remanded to Kwania prison.

This angered human rights activists who expressed their anguish on social media and ranted on what they called unprofessional conduct of the security operatives on Lira town because President Museveni in his COVID-19 guidelines allowed markets for food items to be operational.

Among the prominent personalities who reacted on this alleged degrading treatment of women vendors is a former UN diplomat and former UPC party president Ambassador Dr John Olara Otunu who angrily posted on his wall highlighting the plight of the women.

There were also several activists who took to Facebook and wrote several pieces lambasting the leadership of Lira district for not intervening in time to save the vulnerable mothers who, according to them, were incarcerated at Kwania prison.

It would later emerge that a team of lawyers led by Adam Makmot Kibwamga of Makmot Kibwanga and Company Advocates had lined up a team of 14 young, vibrant and experienced lawyers to provide Pro Bono legal services to the women and this was to begin on Monday 11th of May 2020.

Dramatic twist of events

As the bitter exchange raged on social media, some were quick to note that Lira town did not have any recent operations targeting women who vend food and fruits on the streets and began making inquiries here and there.

TND News’ Frank Oyugi, in attempts to verify this information reached out to North Kyoga Region Police Commander [RPC] Peter Nkulega on his WhatsApp number but he did not reply our message.

But we were soon tipped that the story making rounds on social media was taken by veteran journalist Hudson Apunyo who posted on his Facebook wall in April and we soon linked up with him.

“It’s true, those pictures originated from me, I took them when the women were arrested in April for allegedly breaching the presidential directives on COVID-19 but however some illegal arrests are still being made and I hear they are now being remanded at Alebtong prison” Apunyu told TND News’ Frank Oyugi on phone Sunday afternoon.

Still, on Sunday evening, Morris Chris Ongom, the CEO of Global Forum For Development – GLOFORD Uganda, in a brief telephone conversation did say he had picked interest on the matter and was very concerned as a human rights activist in the civil society space.

Unlike others, Mr Ongom was not quick to rush into conclusions but had to establish the truth by making a few contacts in a bid to verify the information at hand.

According to the GLOFORD Chief, his sources alluded to the fact this was indeed an old photo taken in April, of course that is not to say that the arrest did not happen.

He urged that there was need to verify with prison authorities if more women were still in detention so they could be assisted.

Meanwhile, there was also fear that some unscrupulous people would quickly utilise the situation to mint money as there were already call for cash contributions to help the “women” who would needed a cash bail of shillings 100,000 each.

What did the Lira RDC and LC5 Chairman say?

The air was finally cleared after the Resident District Commissioner of Lira, Mr Milton Odongo and the district chairman, Mr Alex Patrick Oremo Alot, issued a joint statement late Sunday evening.

“The photos circulating on social media are old ones of 9th April 2020 when the 49 suspects appeared in court and were charged with breach of control of public gatherings and meetings, contrary to section 27 of the Public Health Act and Rule 9(1) (2) of the public health control of COVID-19 rule No 5/2020 and were remanded to Kwania prisons transported using prison lorry,” the joint letter signed by Mr Odongo and Oremo reads in part.

They further explain in the letter that the arrest for breach of COVID-19 guidelines happened on 15th April where 48 people including women were apprehended but without any human rights violations.

And that they appeared at Lira high court on production warrants, were all released on cash bail of shillings 100,000 each except a one Jimmy Okello.

Later another 28 including four women were arrested and will be produced in court next week.

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