About me.

Andrew M. Mwenda is the founding Managing Editor of The Independent, Uganda’s premier current affairs newsmagazine. One of Foreign Policy magazine 's top 100 Global Thinkers, TED Speaker and Foreign aid Critic

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Prison Notes - Part 8: Testimonies of government torture vistims

Sunday was also as hectic as Saturday as I continued to receive visitors upstairs and interview inmates down stairs. I had suddenly realised that my days at CPS would come to an end very fast, so I had to work around the clock to finish my interviews. On Saturday night we were joined by many more prisoners, the most interesting one being a UPDF lieutenant (now I cannot remember his name) and another young man (whose name I cannot remember). The second young man is a son to a one Dr. Seezi, and has a gist to retain humour and keep his smile even in the face of adversity. They had been arrested at Garden City after a bar brawl. Those provided my Sunday morning with interesting tales.

Later that day, my employers came to see me led by Nation Media Group Chief Executive Officer, Wilfred Kiboro. They were brought by our Managing Director, Conrad Nkutu, and included NMG board members Okello, Abdulla, and Editorial Director Wangethi Mwangi. At NMG I hold a reputation for being always the source of trouble for Monitor. Somehow, I replaced Charles Onyango-Obbo in this field. They expressed their sympathy and support and debriefed me about their discussions with government. They wished me well and promised to do everything legally possible to get me out of jail.

Jail is a challenging experience. It must be terrible when you are detained for rape or murder, and you know you are guilty, it should be worse if you have been framed under those charges. However, jail can also be a great honour if you are a journalist who has is jailed on the accusation that you are fighting for freedom and defending liberty. Here, as in my case, jail becomes lighter. I had a job to do, to write about jail. I spent the whole of Sunday entertaining guests upstairs, and taking notes from the victims of VCCU underground in the cells. Jail for me was a great opportunity to do many things mainstream journalism needs to do: to study the conditions in our prison system; to see how police treats prisoners; to learn how ordinary people relate to the state; to get information about illegal detention and torture of citizens, and really to be away from my intrusive mobile phone. This Sunday was likely to be my last day in jail. So I took off time to do as many interviews with in mates as possible.

Victim No. 1

Jelia Katwesigye. “VCCU picked me from my house. They attacked my house. I heard firing of bullets outside and people shouting “fungua mulango” (open the door). They entered my house and instead of coming directly to me, they first picked my music system, television, mobile phone, shoes, clothes etc. Then they beat up my wife and when I complained, they pounced on me and gave me a thorough beating. They asked for a gun. I told them I did not have a gun. Then they took me to VCCU torture chambers in Kireka and threw me into a small room called sauna. It is a very small room and we were packed like sardines.

“They beat me with batons and wooden bars. First they heat me on my ankles, later knocked out my elbows before cracking my knees. They also pulled my ears and nose. At the end of the beatings, the ears were bleeding, my nose was bleeding, and my head of all drenched in blood. They called in a dog called Tycoon. It is used to torture people. After a week under intensive torture, I could hardly stand up or walk. I was virtually lame. I would only walk with two aides each holding me on either side, and practically lifting me from point A to point B. There was an old man from Busoga also arrested by VCCU. I think he was a medical assistant. He is the one who helped me survive to tell this story. He treated me from the cells. Now I have slightly recovered. The beatings would take place everyday and would be inflicted on all prisoners.

“Each time a new VCCU soldier comes, he wants to whet his appetite by beating prisoners. Those people there are sick. They are drunk with torture. They take pleasure in inflicting harm on innocent people. I would see my tormentors wearing my shoes and clothes. One of them was using my mobile phone. After one week, the torture greatly subsided. I had not been told what they wanted from me. A month later, VCCU people went back to my home and asked my wife for Shs 100,000 as ransom. She gave it to them but I was not released. Throughout all this time, I did not receive any visitors. My family were not allowed to see me. I could not see a lawyer, a doctor and was not taken to any court. One of the VCCU soldiers who went to my home and extorted ransom from my wife was called Byona. The soldiers who took my property are Sankara and Karevu.

“After four months in illegal detention in Kireka under VCCU, they just put me on an omnibus and brought me here to CPS. My wife does not know where I am now. I have never been visited by anyone. I have now spent a month in this place. My people at home possibly think I am dead. I want you to help me Andrew. You have a voice. When you get out of this cell, please let the outside world know about our plight. Here at CPS, the police cannot release me, or take me to court to me charged because I am a VCCU detainee and the police is afraid of VCCU. I have been in detention without trial for five months now. I have been denied all rights guaranteed under the constitution.

“On my way to these cells, VCCU took my two passports; one for Uganda, the other for East Africa. They also confiscated my driving permit. They also confiscated my letter of appointment to work with Omni-Vision. They also took my academic documents – certificates in motor mechanical engineering. I was working as a driver and motor mechanic. They also took my Senior Four certificate.”

Victim No. 2

Yassin Kajubi (18) “I spent one month in Kireka and have been here at CPS for five days. I was a conductor for an omnibus, and later became a driver. One day, a driver of an omnibus left me with his van for a day. I got a deal to transport children from a nursery school at Kyagura Rd to Entebbe Airport. I found someone to drive the van and we packed the omnibus at the school but before I picked the children, I decided to have lunch. When I came back from lunch, I found the driver had disappeared with the van. I went back to the stage at Owino but did not find the van. When I reported the matter to one Kiyemba, son of the van owner, he insisted I should do everything to find the omnibus. The van owner is called Hasfa Mwanga from Namasuba.

“Seven months later, we had not found the van. So one day, a stage guide at Owino arrested me and took me to police. They called in the van owner and took me to Kireka instead. I was detained by VCCU. They started beating me. They used electric wires to whip me. They knocked all my joints – ankles, knees and elbows with batons and whipped my body with these electric wires. After one day of beatings, I was dumped into a small room called sauna. It has no windows or any ventilation. It is small but we were many of us packed into that one room. Every morning they would pick people one by one to take them for beatings. Later they brought me and dumped me here. My family do not know where I am. I have not been charged in any court of law. I do not know my crime.”

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