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Another familiar break-in takes vital information from rights defender

Analysis

Another familiar break-in takes vital information from rights defender

The broken window bugler at HRNJ's office

The broken window bugler at HRNJ’s office

The break-in at the Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda office in Rubaga, Kampala this week which ended with loss of computers has an all-too-familiar feel to it.

The coordinator of laptops, documents and unspecified amount of money. Ssempala however argues they have ‘pointers’ to suggest that it was not an ordinary break-in but rather a deliberate attack meant to obtain information and frustrate them.

Ssempala said: “It is hard for us to comprehend. This was a highly sophisticated intrusion. The organization is paralysed. A lot of our important information was taken, we can’t tell what they intend to use it for. We suspect this to be a reprisal for the work we do in defending and promoting media freedoms and journalists’ rights in the country.”

Ssempala noted that the latest successful break-in is the second in two years, but also one of many other failed attempts made in recent months.

“There have been several attempts to break into the office but foiled by the security guards. However last night the security guard, who was on duty disappeared in the morning after the break in, leaving behind her gun.”

In June 2014, The Sunrise run a story titled NGOs under systematic attack, in which we revealed that up to twenty Human Rights Organisations had suffered similar loss of vital information through break-ins in the previous two years.

Muhammad Ndifuna, the Executive Director of Human Rights Network (HURINET) pinned security organisations for targeting human rights organisations with the view to obtaining information about the NGOs as well as instilling fear in the managers.

“We highly suspect that these attacks are sponsored by the state perhaps to obtain information, and we have told the Police chief,” Ndifuna urged the government however to use legal means to obtain information, other other resorting to crude illegal practices. Ndifuna however noted that during their meeting with the police, Kayihura denied knowledge of the attacks but promised to investigate,” Ndifuna said last year.

“We also expressed our concern to the IGP over the failure by the police to have any of the break-ins so far successfully investigated,” said Ndifuna.

Ndifuna argued then that the break-ins are part of a bigger campaign by the government to monopolize the public space, by suppressing or intimidating those organisation that can challenge the government in the public domain.

“You can see that the struggle to make this pluralistic political dispensation is under threat. When your work is set out to challenge regime entrenchment, you’re likely to face trouble.”

But Ndifuna urged the his colleagues in the civil society not to give in to intimidation but instead come together to challenge the forces of oppression and work harder to expose the perpetrators of human rights abuses and if they get evidence, go to court.

The latest break-in at HRNJ comes just a week after the group successfully defended its former chairman Mulindwa Mukasa in a criminal case of obstruction of justice, that was filed by former Wandegeya DPC Ceaser  Tusingwire against Mukasa.

Ssempala noted that the police recovered a vandalized safe from a graveyard near Rubaga cathedral after a tip off from the locals.

Ssempala however maintains that the break-in does not seem to be an accident.

“Their interest was to access our information which they did because how do you explain the fact that expensive and portable machines like printers, projectors and photocopiers were not taken! They targeted specific offices within the premises, making us more suspicious of the intentions of the attackers. We hope that the police will investigate this matter to its logical conclusion.” said Ssempala.

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