Street vendor Alanyo Joyce says she was about to close her fried chicken stall for curfew when an official kicked a pan of boiling oil over her
In her small home in Gulu, northern Uganda, Alanyo Joyce dabs at her bare breasts. In some areas, pink and oozing, the skin has been burnt off. It hurts, deeply, from the bone, she says.
She is also grappling with her new appearance – the burns extend across her face, arms and legs, as well as her chest.
On Wednesday, 8 April, the softly-spoken 31-year-old was cooking chips and chicken at her usual spot in the city when she realised it was approaching 7pm. A nationwide curfew had been in place for just a week, as part of Uganda’s coronavirus lockdown.
The next moment, security forces arrived. “They said you pack your things and go. I told them I’m packing, I want to leave,” she says. At that point, Joyce says, a local government enforcement officer walked over and kicked her saucepan, which was filled with boiling oil.
“He came and kicked it without saying anything. I realised my body was burning,” she says. “That day I had put on a white dress and the whole thing was brown.”
Joyce was badly burnt by the hot oil. Photograph: Sally Hayden
Joyce’s account fits a pattern of security forces using excessive force during Uganda’s lockdown, which began on 30 March.
Days before the incident, dozens of women and men were allegedly tortured in Elegu, two hours drive from Gulu.
The soldiers and police said to be responsible were only arrested after images of the victims went viral on social media.
“Police brutality is always prohibited, pandemic or no pandemic,” says Oryem Nyeko, the Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch.
The New York-headquartered organisation say security forces in Uganda have arbitrarily arrested, beaten and shot civilians, including journalists, vendors and LGBT people, since coronavirus restrictions began.
It is one of many African countries where there have been complaints about harsh lockdown enforcement, yet little social protection for citizens who fear they will starve if they can’t continue working.
Ugandan activists have been detained while protesting against the lack of food distributions for people in need, while opposition politician Francis Zaake was arrested for handing out food without going through government channels, and says he was tortured in police custody.