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Five years on, justice slips further away from murdered Vision journalist Thomas Pere

Thomas Pere was murdered on June 13, 2013, on his way home from work. Katwe Police handled the case but it remains unsolved

COLD BLOOD | Five years ago on Sunday June 13, Thomas Pere left New Vision newsroom at around 10:45pm for home in Kawuku on Entebbe Road. By his routine, 10:45pm was early, but being Sunday, he must have checked in earlier and found it ideal to return home at that hour yet he usually left much later.

The 36-year-old who had taken to travel journalism with a passion did not make it home. His body was found Monday morning by a pupil at an empty field in Masajja along Busabaala Road. He had been bludgeoned with a blunt object on the head, a post-mortem report said, from somewhere else and his body dumped at the scene, Police added.

“Pere had injuries all over his body; however, there were no signs of struggle at the scene of crime which led the Police to conclude that the crime was committed elsewhere and the body dumped in the trench,” the post-mortem report from Mulago Hospital reads in part.

Reading from the post-mortem report at a requiem service at All Saints Cathedral in Kampala Rogers Anguzu, his former workmate at Industrial Area-based printing and publishing company, said pathologists’ initial conclusion was that the reporter died after being hit by a blunt force.

Collar bones of the former Entebbe Mongers rugby player were broken, with a depression to his forehead, the report said.

There is no best time or place to be killed and yet it is understandable to say 2013 was certainly not the right time to be murdered in Uganda. Only 19 out of 1,034 murders were investigated successfully by Police that year. Pere wasn’t one of them.

A senior police officer said in 2017 that of the 4,500 murder cases committed in four years, just about 100 were successfully investigated and garnered a conviction. This means that success of the investigations has been only 2% of all the murder cases reported to Police between 2013 when Pere was brutally murdered and 2017.

The PM guy

Pere preferred to turn in for work in the afternoon. It had almost become his way of life. Save for days when his section had brainstorming meeting in the morning, he rarely showed up before 10am. He once said that during the mornings, the newsroom would be quite busy so rather than jostle for space, he would rather rest at such time or go sourcing in the field.

Standing at 184cm, Pere weighed about 85kg. He was almost incomplete without stubs on his chin and a wane smile. When sat behind his laptop in New Vision’s ‘Kirussia’ – as the freelance journalists section was known then – he typed with his left index finger dancing above the top left corner of the QWERTY like some forces were shaking it. He would not use that particular finger though.

Pere’s childhood friend Anthony Olwoch remembers him as an understanding and reliable person.

“When he came home, we talked endlessly,” he said of the deceased journalists who walked with his camera hang on his belt.

Oyet Okwera said Pere was his business partner who confided in him a lot.

“He was a a principled colleague whose trait matched well with mine. I still remember that morning when a call from police sent sad moments across the entire newsroom,” he said.

“Pere was actually doubling as a website designer whose IT skills had started building a clientele base,” Oyet added.

Pere’s murder left those who knew him wondering how anyone would kill the calm and composed graduate of environment management from Makerere University.

As a member of the Uganda Tourism Press Association (UTPA), Pere was one of the most popular and most likable of the lot, recalls Abbey Rafsanjan.

“The life of this once always smiling and kind-hearted colleague was taken in such a gruesome way,” Rafsanjan, the president of UTPA, said.

He said it is outrageous Pere’s family can’t have a closure; the least they deserve from his tragic story.

“Whoever killed Pere knew what they were doing, let nobody kid you that it was a robbery gone wrong,” said Rafsanjan. “In a country riven by corruption, lawlessness and insensitive murders, if you find a journalist murdered in this manner and with all his belongs but the laptop left behind, you have to open your eyes wider.”

Charles Tako, father of the deceased, left mourners speechless at his requiem when he said too many questions were begging for answers.

“From what was said here it is clear that Pere was a good person. So why did they kill him? Is it because of the stories he was writing or because of a politically charged atmosphere?” he asked.

Indeed, several theories floated about the motives, with the most likely that Pere had been killed by thugs in a taxi he had boarded, that they were after his possession in the bag and during a scuffle, they had hit him with a blunt object.

Convincing but not enough.

Mobile phone, wallet, camera and other personal effects were on his body. But his laptop was missing. It has never been recovered. Speculation was that he had been killed by thugs during a scuffle as they robbed him of his property, but if the thugs only took the laptop and left behind his wallet and mobile phone, were they really robbers in the true sense of the word? Why would robbers leave those other personal effects?

There would be a possibility that they emptied or found nothing of value in the wallet, but how about his phone?

It was easy to point at thugs for, around that time, iron bar hit men were on the loose. People were assaulted and bumped off almost on a daily. But this did not stop other theories from floating, with suggestions that Pere could have been killed for his works.

While calling on authorities to fully investigate the murder of Pere, Irina Bokova, the former UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) director-general, left little to guesswork about the possibility of a motive.

“The murder of a journalist is a crime against the whole of society; an attempt to choke off democratic debate and muzzle the basic right of freedom of expression,” the former Unesco chief said.

“A clear message must be sent to the perpetrators of such crimes that their acts will not go unpunished.”

In other corridors, whispers passed around that Pere could have been bumped off by security agents who were looking for the enigmatic Facebook blogger Tom Voltaire Okwalinga (TVO). At the time, security agents were under pressure to unearth the faceless blogger who was giving the state a bloody nose with intel expose on their Facebook page.

The whisperers pointed to the fact that Pere’s laptop went missing, suggesting it was taken for further investigations, while his other valuables were left behind. But Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesperson Luke Oweyesigire dismissed this theory as “laughable.”

 

Thomas Pere with media colleagues on a boat ride. He had taken to tour and travel journalism with a passion and in 2010 travelled to South Africa by bus to watch the World Cup.

‘A gone case’

However, what is not laughable is the fact that the murder case that was being handled at Kampala South Regional headquarters in Katwe has stalled.

“It’s a gone case unless new evidence comes up or a witness comes out but the evidence on record can’t prosecute any of the suspects,” Oweyesigire said.

A day after the murder, then Kampala Metropolitan Police spokesman, Ibin Ssenkumbi, told journalists that a driver, whose identity was never revealed to the media, had been arrested in Nateete, a Kampala suburb, over the brutal murder.

The suspect’s taxi had been found with blood stains that detectives premised on as a possible lead. Police obtained blood samples from the vehicle and submitted them to the government laboratory for analysis to match it with that of the deceased reporter.

A conductor of the taxi was also later picked up.

However, the two suspects in September 2013 set free for lack of evidence linking them to the murder.

Paul Mark Odong, the Kampala South Metropolitan Crime Intelligence officer at the time, said DNA results on which Police depended to prosecute the suspects had turned negative.

Since then, no other suspects have been arrested in connection with the murder. The case has slowly receded from memory and the file joined the other thousands of pending murder files in dusty cabinets.

Indeed, Benon Ayebare, the CID investigative officer who handled Pere’s file, has since been promoted and briefly lead CID directorate for Kampala Metropolitan South and before he was transferred to Rwenzori Region as CID director.

Any chance that other officers would be assigned what Americans call ‘cold file’ and Ugandan security “pending” have been as low as the probability of Pere returning from the dead. To put it another way, even Pere’s former employers, New Vision, appear to have forgotten the unsolved murder of their former foot soldier.

On the fifth anniversary of his murder, Pere’s remained an unsolved murder case but New Vision for which he served for more than a decade had long forgotten the circumstances under which he had died. The paper did not even remind authorities charged with giving a semblance of justice to millions of Ugandans like him that this case is pending.

When Crime24 contacted New Vision earlier this week about Pere, the editors said they would make a follow-up with Police.

Investigating a case in Uganda is already hard enough. It’s worse in homicide cases where lack of expertise and understaffing of detectives bite Uganda Police Force hard. In most cases, if no meaningful arrest is made within a month of murder in cases where suspects are not known already, it becomes much harder since an investigating officer will have taken on other urgent (read newer) cases.

Pere is now five years and two months past. At best, it is a ‘cold case.’

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