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Radio presenter goes missing

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Lira, 19 July 2011 - Augustine Okello, a presenter with the Lira-based radio station Rhino FM, has gone missing.

Okello, a.k.a Rouks, who joined Rhino FM five years ago as a morning show presenter, went missing on Wednesday 13 July 2011 after holding meetings with Lira District Internal Security Officer (DISO) Steven Eryaku and a police officer at Lira police station.

A District Security Officer is a military intelligence officer attached to the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence.

Christine Awor, a wife to Okello, said her husband had not returned home since 13 July.

Article 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda states that "no person shall be subjected to any form of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

Sara Acio, a Rhino FM news anchor who was the last person to be with Okello on 13 July before his alleged disappearance, told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) that at around 11am that day they went to the Lira Central police station to meet a police officer called Richard.

She said as Richard was on the phone outside his office Eryaku entered and shook hands with them. The DISO then asked Okello whether he was Rouks, and told him that he had been looking for someone called Rouks.

"Eryaku took us to his office and made Okello sign in the visitors' book and afterwards, he made arrangements to meet with him later in the evening," Acio said. She said they left the DISO's office and she was dropped at the Northern Star bar by Okello as he was heading home.

Acio added that Okello received a telephone call believed to be from the DISO's office for a brief meeting at Grand Pacific, located along Te-Obia road in Lira town.

HRNJ-Uganda has learnt that no sooner had Okello gone for a meeting at Grand Pacific than his phone went off mysteriously and he has not appeared again. A source told HRNJ-Uganda that when Okello's relatives approached a police officer whom Okello met first, DISO Eryaku summoned the police officer while he was still in a meeting with the relatives.

HRNJ-Uganda fears that the disappearance of Okello could be related to his work as a presenter of a morning show which receives phone calls from the community on political, social, economic and cultural issues.

According to Awor, the journalist's motorcycle was found at Lira police station. When they tried to inquire who had parked it there, they were told by a traffic policeman that it had been brought by Eryaku.

Okello is the second journalist to go missing in a period of four years in Northern Uganda after Otim Patrick who was kidnapped and kept incommunicado. He was later produced in court under habeas corpus and charged with treason and concealment to treason.

"We condemn in the strongest term possible the manner in which Okello went missing. It's the obligation of the government to protect all citizens from any human rights violations. The government should use lawful means to deal with suspects rather than keeping someone in illegal detention. We are going to fight that behavior until we get Okello out from incommunicado detention," said HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.

A case has been reported to the Lira police station by Awor.

HRNJ-Uganda calls for the intervention of the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights and foreign missions based in Uganda in order to bring the Ugandan government to order.

HRNJ-Uganda also demands that the police arrest Lira DISO Steven Eryaku as investigations into the matter continue.

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