A whole lot of individuals in Uganda are nonetheless lacking after being detained following raids on their houses or within the aftermath of election marketing campaign rallies. The BBC’s Endurance Atuhaire has been speaking to a few of these affected.
It was within the early hours of the morning when greater than a dozen individuals – armed, uniformed and masked – descended on the village of Kisamula, 150km (95 miles) south-west of the capital, Kampala. After driving home to accommodate, they made off with 18 younger males, mentioned to principally be opposition supporters.
Two months after the raid, which occurred within the run-up to January’s bitterly contested basic election, not a kind of taken has returned.
Warning: This story incorporates graphic testimony which can be upsetting
Ronald Muwonge is among the many lacking.
He was at house along with his spouse, Teddy Naluswata, when somebody began banging on their door at 03:00.
“They referred to as Muwonge to both open up or they’d break it down,” Ms Naluswata recollects.
“They mentioned they had been police. I rushed to the door, instructed him to dress. He solely managed to get trousers on. The door flung open, and one of many males pushed a gun in my ribs and instructed me to get out of the best way.
“They dragged Muwonge out, and threw him down within the grass, beating him. He stored calling to out me: ‘Teddy, please ask them to allow you to deliver me a shirt. Please deliver me a shirt.'”
The boys then searched the home, methodically.
“There have been perhaps about 15 of them, wearing black police uniform, with masks and berets.
“One discovered my husband’s pockets. There was about 70,000 shillings ($20; £14) in there. I begged him: ‘Please, you’ve got taken my husband, depart the cash for me and my kids,'” says the mom who’s anticipating her third little one.
“He emptied the pockets. I cried to them time and again: ‘Are you able to not less than inform me the place you take him?'”
They didn’t reply.
‘Echoes of Idi Amin’
It was solely after dawn that Ms Naluswata learnt the total scale of what had befallen the village – when she met her neighbours with related tales on the police station.
For some this has echoes of Idi Amin’s rule within the Nineteen Seventies, when 1000’s of individuals had been killed or disappeared, some dragged away in broad daylight, by no means to be heard from once more.
John Kiwanuka, the nephew of 65-year-old Margaret Nalinnya, was additionally taken within the raid on Kisamula.
The home was a large number when she went to see what had occurred.
“After I noticed the pool of blood on his bed room ground, there was one thought in my thoughts: ‘My little one is useless.’ I sat on the veranda, unable to maneuver,” Ms Nalinnya says, overcome by violent sobs, her physique shaking.
Villagers instructed the BBC that Mr Kiwanuka was shot in each legs earlier than he was bundled right into a van.
Two months on, his house nonetheless lies desolate.
The damaged metallic entrance door, which is lacking its glass panels, and a gaping gap within the ceiling present the extent of drive used.
Mr Kiwanuka paid for his aunt’s meals and offered cash for her hypertension treatment. Ms Nalinnya’s well being has deteriorated since he was taken away.
An official criticism filed by legal professionals to Masaka regional police on behalf of Mr Kiwanuka’s mom says that the 18 who had been taken had been shoved into two mini-buses.
Taken by ‘drones’
It’s believed that throughout the nation, tons of of opposition activists and campaigners had been picked up in related style.
Many experiences have emerged a few sure sort of mini-bus, with tinted home windows and untraceable licence plates, most well-liked by the armed personnel who perform these arrests, that the automobile has come to be identified regionally as a “drone”.
In November, two months earlier than the Kisamula raid, because the election marketing campaign was heating up, Julius Kiberu had simply hopped off a commuter taxi in Kisowera east of Kampala, when he heard gunshots ring out.
Individuals scattered in each course. He ducked and ran, hoping to cover behind the outlets.
Two armed males in plainclothes jumped out of a “drone” and grabbed him by the waist of his trousers.
“One in every of them knocked me on the top with a baton. I blacked out.
“After I got here to, I used to be on the ground of the ‘drone’, one arm handcuffed to a seat, blood flowing into my eyes. At any time when I attempted to boost my head, somebody stamped it down,” the 35-year-old electrician says, instinctively touching the scar.
Hours later, Mr Kiberu says that he, and the others who had been picked up in the identical approach, arrived at a compound.
Hoods had been thrown over their heads earlier than they had been dragged right into a pitch-black room, he provides.
The monotonous routine of being questioned could be damaged up with beatings.
“They requested me time and again: ‘The place is the gun? Are you rebels? Did you tear down the president’s marketing campaign posters?’
“I believe typically I used to be crushed with a stick, different occasions with an electrical wire. Typically, they’d make us lie down in a line, and stroll on our backs with heavy boots. I prayed to God.
Left in a forest
Mr Kiberu says the beatings and being held in a single place for hours have left his left leg numb and he now walks with a limp.
He nonetheless has no concept who was holding him or through which a part of the nation he was detained.
In February, after greater than 11 weeks of detention and having been transferred to a few completely different areas, he was dumped in the midst of the evening in a eucalyptus forest over 100km from his house.
“I used to be pushed from the van, my head nonetheless coated, my fingers tied. The soldier instructed me to lie face down, and never transfer. He took off the hood and simply left.”
After managing to wriggle his fingers free, he discovered a police put up alongside a dust street, and requested for assist.
His eyes are actually bloodshot and his sight nonetheless poor after spending weeks in darkness.
“Each time I shut my eyes to sleep, all of it comes again,” Mr Kiberu says, wanting round nervously as if anticipating somebody, or one thing, to out of the blue seem.
Extra on Uganda’s election:
The election noticed singer-turned-politician Bobi Wine mount a robust problem to President Yoweri Museveni, who ultimately received a sixth time period.
All through the marketing campaign, safety forces carried out mass arrests as they broke up opposition rallies whereas imposing coronavirus pandemic restrictions on the gathering of crowds.
The NGO Authorized Assist Service Suppliers Community documented 511 instances of “arbitrary arrests and illegal detention” throughout the nation between October 2020 and January this yr.
“Sixty-five (13%) had been launched from police cells with out being charged as some had been arbitrarily arrested and detained for greater than 48 hours,” its report reads partly. In line with Ugandan regulation, suspects have to be produced in court docket inside 48 hours of their arrest.
On 31 December, within the Lake Victoria Island district of Kalangala, 126 individuals had been arrested at a Bobi Wine marketing campaign rally.
They had been later granted bail by a Justice of the Peace’s court docket, just for 49 of them to be re-arrested and charged with possession of 4 rounds of ammunition earlier than the navy court docket.
Regardless of their plight, their family and friends are comforted by the truth that they’re in a delegated jail.
The whereabouts of tons of others arrested beneath related circumstances stay unknown.
Bobi Wine’s occasion, the Nationwide Unity Platform, has printed an inventory of 423 of its supporters, largely from the Central Area, which incorporates Kisamula, and the place the occasion received a number of parliamentary seats, who it says are lacking.
Quite a lot of them, the occasion says, had been polling brokers in possession of proof of vote-rigging.
When questions had been requested, safety officers at completely different ranges initially prevented answering or appeared to disclaim that there was a problem.
However on 4 February Inside Affairs Minister Gen Jeje Odongo admitted to parliament that there had been an “overzealousness on the a part of the troopers”.
President Museveni later ordered the safety businesses to supply an inventory of these in detention, whereas additionally dismissing claims that Ugandans had been being arbitrarily kidnapped, saying that those that had been arrested had been criminals and terrorists.
Final week Gen Odongo lastly offered an inventory of 176 names, with particulars of when and the place they had been arrested, the fees towards them and the place they had been being held.
Some had been held for allegedly collaborating in protests, others for possession of navy materials and others for holding conferences to plan post-election violence.
Among the lacking return
The most important quantity, the listing reveals, are beneath navy detention and the minister mentioned investigations had been persevering with to seek out if there are any others.
Over current weeks, a couple of detainees have resurfaced, some dumped in bushes close to their villages, barely hanging on to life. Some are in intensive care in hospitals, whereas others are nursing ugly accidents.
One former detainee instructed the BBC that his testicles had been tightly tied with ropes for hours, and at different occasions held towards flames.
Native media have printed a sequence of testimonies, through which former detainees say they had been electrocuted or compelled to eat rotten meals.
However not one of the 18 lacking from Kisamula have reappeared.
The 2 sons of Francis Luganzi, a 45-year-old carpenter, had been additionally among the many 18.
He has given up hope of ever seeing them alive once more.
“I doubt that they survived these beatings,” he says, holding his head in his fingers.
“I’ve cried all day and all evening for weeks. If our kids are useless, the federal government ought to simply give us the our bodies and we bury them.
“If the federal government would not need democratic politics, why do not they only abolish it?
“Each Ugandan has a proper to help whoever they need. It’s not against the law.”
Daniel Elton, senior editor at Wahu Times, writes about politics and policy with a focus on climate advocacy. Daniel previously at the New Republic and, and Self. Daniel can be reached by email.