Kalangala Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Ms Eva Kwesiga has ordered soldiers under the Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) to stop arresting suspects of illegal fishing from their homes.
Ms Kwesiga said the suspects should be arrested on sight with their exhibits on the lake or while transporting illegal fishing.
“It’s inhuman to arrest illegal fishing suspects from their home and without any exhibits. What our soldiers are doing is not good and must stop forthwith,” Ms Kwesiga told Monitor on September 7.
She also directs that suspects of illegal fishing should be tried in courts within the district where family members can easily access them.
“Why should someone who has committed a crime in Kalangala be taken to a Kampala court, why?” she asked.
The directive comes after two women- Ms Joyce Kyomuhangi and Prossy Nakyeyune together with their children, stormed Ms Kwesiga’s office on Thursday demanding the release of their husbands, Mr Richard Kabuusu and Mr Francis Mukasa Ssenyonga.
The two were arrested four months ago without exhibits and transferred to Buganda Road Magistrates Court in Kampala to face trial. Both have since been remanded to Luzira Prison.
The RDC revealed that she receives at least one woman daily at her office with complains that their husband has been arrested by soldiers over alleged involvement in illegal fishing.
Ms Kyomuhangi, a resident of Mweena landing site claims that her husband [Mr Richard Kabuusu] was arrested by the FPU commander in Kalangala Capt. Eric S Muhangi while resting at his friend’s home, claiming he was involved in illegal fishing.
“My husband who is a boda boda cyclist, first fled the home because the soldiers were hunting for him. He left me with four children which I have to fend for and his motorcycle was also impounded,” she said.
She said her husband has been on remand for four months and the family failed to raise Shs1.5m to secure his bail.
According to Ms Nakyeyune ,also a resident of Mweena landing site, her husband [Francis Mukasa Ssenyonga] was first arrested when she was six months pregnant.
“He was again arrested together with Kabuusu when my baby was two months old .We really don’t know the criteria they [soldiers] use to decide which suspect should be tried in courts on the mainland when some are produced in Kalangala Magistrates court,” she said.
According to Mr Robert Yiga ,a fisherman at Kasenyi landing site in Mugoye Sub-county in Kalangala District, FPU soldiers who arrest fishermen from their homes usually come with a list.
“We are always arrested from our homes without any exhibits like illegal fishing gear or anything. When you try to question them , they say they are following a list. We really don’t know who generates that list and for what purpose,” he said.
In his defense, Capt. Muhangi said they first carry out thorough investigations about suspects they arrest from homes.
“There is no one we get from his home without proof that he is involved in illegal fishing. Usually, when we ask them to bring the illegal fishing gears ,they comply and we burn them,” he said.
He explained that they currently take the suspects to courts outside Kalangala because some local politicians were using their influence to secure their release while still at police stations .
“We used to arrest the suspects, take them to the police station, but as we waited to take them to court, you could see them back in the community,” he added.
While visiting Kalangala in May, President Museveni called upon elders in the area who he termed as “Abataka” to reorganise themselves and fight illegal fishing practices on the Lake Victoria.
Ever since President Museveni deployed soldiers to crackdown on illegal fishing on Uganda’s lakes in 2017, they have on several occasions been criticized over their high-handedness in dealing with people suspected of engaging in illegal fishing.
During FPU operations, many people suspected of dealing in immature fish have reportedly been tortured, some killed and several ungazetted landing sites destroyed along the shores of Lakes Victoria , Kyoga and Albert.