Two are dead in Kampala following an incident in which Ugandan police shot into a mob late Monday.
According to reports, police were attempting to break up a crowd of motorcycle taxi drivers which had caught two men trying to steal a motorcycle. The mob converged upon the two men and proceeded to beat them.
According to the spokesman for the Kampala metropolitan police, Idi Ssenkumbi, the angry mob turned on one of the officers as he moved in to protect the suspected thieves.
“In an attempt to save himself he discharged some bullets which lead to the death of some two people and injuring some three who are still undergoing treatment," said Ssenkumbi. "The policeman was also arrested immediately and disarmed. He is now in police custody as investigations continue.”
Ssenkumbi says the Ugandan police were looking into the command structure to determine whether problems of management may have contributed to the incident. He says commanding officers could also be held responsible when the shootings are brought to trial.
The police managed to take one of the suspected thieves into custody. The other was beaten by multiple bystanders and died after being set on fire.
While grisly, the lynching is not without precedent. In Uganda - and the entire east African region - mob justice is a frequent occurrence. People caught committing crimes as minor as pickpocketing are often beaten within an inch of their lives by onlookers. More serious offenders may face necklacing, in which a car tire filled with gasoline is placed around the body and set on fire.
Monday’s incident is likely to be another cause for concern about Uganda’s police, but Ssenkumbi stressed the incident was not indicative of the force as a whole.
“As an institution we feel it was the responsibility on the side of the police officers and their acts actually do not reflect the character of the Ugandan police,” he added.
The killings come just one week after a Human Rights Watch report detailing the alleged abuses of a special unit of the Ugandan police. The report accuses the Rapid Response Unit of routinely torturing, detaining and executing suspects without due process or concern for human rights.