Police in Uganda arrested 30 local students and hospitalized at least 50 this week for allegedly engaging in a fight over a “botched love affair” between kids from different schools, the country’s Daily Monitor reports.
Police deny the accusations that tear gas sent dozens of students to the hospital.
The fight erupted in the Mbale district in Uganda’s Eastern Region after a student from the local secondary school reportedly attacked another student of the local high school.
According to the Daily Monitor, the attacker accused the local high school student of “falling in love with his long-time girlfriend.”
Both schools share the namesake of the district of Mbale.
Robert Tukei, a spokesman for a regional police station in the area, reportedly announced that law enforcement arrested 30 students accused of being involved in the incident.
“I can confirm that 30 have been arrested over inciting violence and they will be charged accordingly,” Tukei proclaimed.
Authorities are holding the suspects at the Mbale central police station.
Tukei refuted claims that inhaling tear gas forced students to be hospitalized, arguing, “The police only responded to stop the fight, which had broken out. If some of them were injured, they were injured during the fight not necessarily inhaling teargas.”
Stephen Wambalo, the headteacher the Mbale High School, however, conceded that students did indeed inhale tear gas used the by law enforcement to break up the fight.
“When police intervened, it fired tear gas, which left many of students screaming for help as they were choking,” he said.
The tear gas also left some students “unconscious before they collapsed,” Wambalo said, contradicting the police spokesperson.
Tukei vowed to investigate the matter to get the root cause of the fight that started it all.
Human rights groups have accused Ugandan authorities of abusing their power, cracking down on the opposition and journalists, many times using tear gas, to disperse protestors.
A report by Human Rights Watch covering abuses in Uganda last year noted:
Violations of rights to freedoms of association, expression, and assembly persisted, as security forces beat and at times, tortured and arbitrarily detained protesters, journalists, and opposition members.
Despite various government commitments to hold security forces accountable for their conduct, many investigations into military and police abuses of civilians failed to progress…
In March, the U.S. Department of State issued its annual report on human right activities across the globe in 2018, noting:
Human rights issues included reports of unlawful or arbitrary killings; forced disappearance; torture; arbitrary detention; political prisoners; violence and intimidation against journalists, censorship, criminalization of libel, and restricted access to the internet; substantial interference with the rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; restrictions on political participation; corruption; criminalization of same-sex consensual sexual conduct; and security force harassment and detention of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) persons.
State determined that the Ugandan government refuses to probe, prosecute, or punish officials guilty of human rights violations.
The government was reluctant to investigate, prosecute, or punish security forces and other officials who committed human rights violations, stressing that “impunity was a problem.”