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Police bans arrests of the 'idle and disorderly'

KAMPALA - Police have moved to enforce a countrywide ban on detention of suspects over the idle and disorderly charge, a move widely seen as a reaction to President Yoweri Museveni’s recent reprimand of the force.

The ban, which comes in effect immediately, was announced by deputy Inspector General of Police, Okoth Ochola.

“This is to inform you that the offence of idle and disorderly was declared unconstitutional by courts of law. Therefore all officers are instructed to stop arresting suspects under the cover of this offence,” said Ochola in a circular to police commanders across the country.

Police have been arresting many people, especially youths found playing cards (matatu) and board games Ludo and Omweso for being idle and disorderly.

But the president in his State of the Nation Address on June 6 condemned the act, saying police should stop the practice with immediate effect.

The idle and disorderly offence is punishable under the Penal Code Act (which is a law providing for crimes and their punishments).

According to Barefoot Lawyers, a free legal help NGO, being idle and disorderly has often been used to detain prostitutes or street beggars or people who are presumed by police to wander aimlessly in public places.

Others are youth whose pass time is playing games of chance like cards for money in public places.

Under the law, offenders can be imprisoned for up to three months or made to pay a fine of up to three thousand shillings (sh3,000).

However, most suspects were often left to go without charge because the offence is hard to prove. Police, however, have been arresting people anyway as it is seen as a simpler way for police officers to extort bribes.

The charge, enacted during the colonial era, has been protested by prisons officials and human right activists who complain that it doesn’t help the country’s overcrowded prisons.

Most of those on remand are petty offenders, which is imposing unnecessary burden on resource-constrained detention facilities. - See more at: