By Alex Muhumuza
No sooner had Uganda released nine Rwandans who have been in detention in Uganda – with no court trial, and others tried in military court in complete violation of their civilian rights – than Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa began insinuating the released men were “guilty” of crimes.
That was yesterday during a media event when Uganda handed the Rwandan nationals over, to the Rwandan High Commissioner to Uganda Frank Mugambage.
Kutesa said the release of the Rwandan nationals only was because of “political goodwill” to “de-escalate the tensions” between the two countries. Kutesa was speaking on the same stage as Rwandan High Commissioner to Uganda Frank Mugambage who received the nine men on behalf of his country.
Mugambage welcomed the decision to release the Rwandans who had been arbitrarily arrested in Uganda. “What we are witnessing is a very good step in the right direction,” said the ambassador, adding that the gesture by Uganda should be followed by other actions to end all concerns Rwanda has raised over time. “There is need to address other things as well,” Mugambage said.
“These should include putting an end to negative forces against the Government of Rwanda; indeed deal with those (negative forces) who are in Uganda,” the ambassador emphasized.
Kutesa however chose to say that the released Rwandans – Rene Rutagungira, Claude Iyakaremye, Nzeyimana Herman, Emmanuel Rwamucyo, Augustin Rutayisire, Bahati Mugenga, Etienne Nsanzabahizi, Charles Byaruhanga and Munyangabe – were “not blameless” and could be “re-arrested”.
As if on cue sections of Kampala media, notably websites like Chimpreports and Softpower were amplifying Kutesa’s words to make it seem they were guilty of great crimes. Chimpreports highlighted Kutesa’s claims with the headline: “Freed Rwandans were not blameless; we released them out of goodwill”.
Softpower in a lengthy piece quoted the foreign minister saying: “It is not an acquittal; it is a withdrawal of charges and they could be re-arrested or recharged.”
This website made several claims against the Rwandans such as: “the released Rwandans had been flouting Ugandan laws to cross into the country with fire arms and abduct Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers before illegally repatriating them back to Rwanda.”
This is the same language, media analyst will recognize, used by fringe Facebook elements such as “Robert Patrick Fati Gakwerere”, Titus Seruga and others whose waking ours are pre-occupied with penning diatribes against the Rwandan leadership.
The things Softpower, Chimpreports and others are reporting; and the words of Minister Kutesa are not supported by facts (it stretches credulity for instance how “agents of Rwanda” can allegedly so easily cross into another country to kidnap refugees and asylum seekers – as if that country has no security organization).
The case of Rene Rutagungira is very illustrative of one whose name has been dragged repeatedly in the mud as “a kidnapper”. He is the one the Kampala establishment been pointing at and saying he “kidnapped Rwandan refugees.” By now avid consumers of news have read, or heard how Rutagungira was dragged away by Ugandan Military Intelligence (CMI) operatives as he was enjoying a drink with friends in Namirembe.
That was in August 5, 2017. The three men armed with guns walked to Rutagungira and dragged him out of the bar, causing a great commotion. They showed no arrest warrants and did not tell him why, or where they were taking him.
The supreme irony is that the same authorities that would accuse Rutagungira of kidnap had themselves used kidnap to take him. It turned out they had no facts, but they tried to extract a confession from him with torture, according to the Rwandans’ lead attorney Eron Kiiza.
“We know it for a fact that later in 2017 Henry Tumukunde Uganda’s minister of national security at the time personally went to Mbuya Barracks (CMI headquarters where Rutagungira initially was detained) and tortured my client,” Kiiza said last year in April. “Tumukunde slapped, kicked, and spat on my client to make him confess things he knew nothing about.”
The person the Ugandan authorities and sections of the media regularly claim that Rutagungira kidnapped is Joel Mutabazi. But even though every time they make it seem that Rutagungira was kidnapping “Rwandans”, in plural, the only individual they ever mention is Mutabazi. The latter was a fugitive wanted by Rwandan authorities for acts of terrorism.
Uganda Police handed him over to its Rwandan counterparts, in broad daylight, with even the Ugandan media there. That was in October 2013. Rwanda Police said in a statement that Mutabazi “has been transferred to Rwanda as part of standing bilateral cooperation.”
Rutagungira’s wife Jacinta Dusangeyezu, crying tears asked how they could accuse her husband so falsely when the truth was public.
Attorneys of the Rwandans have been adamant during their long fight for their release: the charges against them are all trumped up. “The military prosecutors have not produced a single piece of evidence, not even circumstantial!, to support their charges,” said Gawaya Tegulle another Kampala attorney. “All charges are false and concocted!” he added.
When challenged to conduct proper court procedures, or else let the detainees go as it is against the law to lock anyone up beyond 48 hours with no evidence and therefore no charges, Ugandan military authorities only ignore the courts. They also have been defying court orders to release people against whom they have no case.
This website has seen copies of Kampala High Court orders to CMI to release Rwandans, among them Bahati Mugenga, which CMI simply ignored.
Things have been equally egregious for Rwamucyo and Rutayisire.
The ordeal of these two businessmen and friends started in Mbarara in May 2018. Rutayisire had joined his friend Rwamucyo to go to a bank branch in the town where the latter intended to deposit a big sum of money – Ushs 140 million.
But the moment they got out of the car, one Mukama Moses Kandiho, a Government Intelligence Security Officer (GISO) of the area accosted them. He told them they were “under arrest”, according to eyewitnesses who know the GISO. That also is according to Rwamucyo’s family members.
While the Rwandans sat on the ground, Moses Kandiho – a brother to CMI chief Brig. Abel Kandiho – called Maj. Fred Mushambo, the UPDF 2nd Division counterintelligence officer on his cellphone. The latter arrived in his vehicle with two soldiers, it is reported. The soldiers, “as if they were on a mission”, immediately ransacked Rwamucyo’s car.
Family members say that’s when his bag with the money was taken away.
When this website interviewed Betty Mutamba, Rutayisire’s wife about his disappearance she burst into tears. She said when she called her husband, in the morning of May 9 (2018), “he was talking strangely”. By then they had not yet taken his phone away, she said. He told her they had been driven into Makenke Military Barracks in Mbarara.
“After that his phone went completely dead,” said a tearful Betty.
Inquiries revealed that the men were jailed in Makenke for two weeks. During that time they suffered severe beatings, daily. After the two weeks they were put into a vehicle and transported to Mbuya Military Barracks.
While at Mbarara their persecutors had told them they were charged with “involvement in a robbery plot.” At Mbuya the charge changed to, “illegal weapons possession”.
“How could they say, my husband had weapons; someone who has never been in the army and never held a gun? They just want to kill him,” wept Betty when we interviewed her.
The men suffered. From Mbuya they took them to Makindye. Then Luzira Prison.
The Ugandan military authorities “tried” them in Makindye General Court Martial. As always they had no evidence against them.
It has been the same for the rest of the seven released Rwandans.
It is the same with the hundreds more still languishing in various places of detention in Uganda.