KAMPALA — Members of Parliament have condemned the government in what they called ‘unfair treatment’ of weightlifter, Julius Ssekitoleko who is said to have disappeared while in Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics games.
The legislators said that Ssekitoleko committed no offence and was therefore, treated unjustly.
The reaction from the MPs followed a statement on the arrest of Ssekitoleko presented by the Minister for Internal Affairs, Gen David Muhoozi, at a parliamentary sitting on Wednesday, 18 August, 2021.
Gen. David Muhoozi said that on 17 July 2021, seven days before the 2020 Olympics began in Tokyo, Julius Ssekitoleko, a weightlifter from Uganda went missing from his hotel in Osaka, Japan.
Gen. Muhoozi said Ssekitoleko left the Olympic training camp after learning he did not meet standards to compete in the games. “His disappearance was reported to the Japanese authorities and immediately, a search for him was mounted by the Japan Police,” Muhoozi said.
The statement stated that he was found four days later and deported back to Uganda.
On the 23 July 2021, the athlete arrived back in Uganda and was immediately arrested and taken to CID Headquarters for questioning.
Gen Muhoozi added that on 27 June 2021, the Police file was sentto the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who advised that Ssekitoleko had not committed any offence under the laws of Uganda.
‘ The DPP accordingly ordered that the suspect be released unconditionally,” Muhoozi added.
Ssekitoleko joined the national Olympic team in 2018 and has competed in a number of local and international sporting events, winning medals.
The MPs however, held that Ssekitoleko should have been treated in a better way rather being received with handcuffs at the airport.
Bardege-Layibi Division MP, Hon. Martin Ojara Mapenduzi said the government needs to devise strategies to manage expectations and frustrations of the sports personalities.
“It is clear that Ssekitoleko was distraught after not qualifying for the competitions thus choosing to leave the camp,” he said adding that, ‘this needs to be managed so that it does not happen again’.
Mapenduzi added that instead of arresting Ssekitoleko, he should have been counselled on how to deal with his failure to qualify.
“There is need to come up with a system to help support our sports representatives in all aspects of their lives and create a fund for them so that they do not engage in desperate actions, “he said.
Hon. Dan Atwijukire (NRM, Kazo County) said the athlete was financially stressed prompting him to disappear and it was wrong to arrest.
“When these athletes represent our country and win medals, they lift our flag high and we receive them with open hands. We neglect those who may not have brought home a medal even when they put in effort,” he added.
Atwijukire held that the government should boost its financial support towards sports personalities to avert cases of disappearing sportsmen and women in the next events.
Hon. Asuman Basalirwa (JEEMA, Bugiri Municipality) asked the government to break the erroneous practice of security organs especially the police arresting people they suspect for wrong-doing without any evidence.
“It is a habit lately for the police to be knee-jerked into arresting people before gathering evidence for crimes they suspect them of; this is an embarrassment to the state,” he stated.
Basalirwa held that the issue of respect of the fundamental rights of Ugandans needs to be taken with utmost seriousness and he labeled the arrest of Ssekitoleko as misconduct of the police.
The Deputy Speaker, Anita Among said it was unfortunate for the national organisers of the teams to fail to ensure that all Ugandan participants qualify before they take them out for sporting events.
She asked the Minister of State for Sports to report on the selection and qualification criteria for sportsmen and women who are going out to compete at international events on behalf of the country.