By Patience Kirabo
After almost three years of incarceration, characterised by torture, denial of consular services and other violations of their rights nine Rwandans are back home. They arrived in Rwanda yesterday night at Gatuna One Stop border post following their release by the General Court Martial in Makindye-Kampala.
Uganda’s Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa – speaking at a press event during which the former detainees were handed to Rwanda – said it was a “gesture of goodwill” to restore good relations. Kutesa however almost marred the moment when he went ahead to claim the Rwandans “were not blameless”. This despite the fact Ugandan military prosecutors never proved any charge against them.
Relations between the two neighbor countries have been stretched almost beyond breaking point.
The Rwandan High Commissioner to Kampala Frank Mugambage however rose above bitterness to say releasing the Rwandans, all who were arbitrarily arrested and detained, was a welcome gesture on the part of Uganda “towards implementation of the Luanda MoU.” However, Mugambage emphasized, Uganda’s move should be followed by other actions to end all concerns Rwanda has raised over time.
“There is need to address other things as well,” the ambassador said. “These should include putting an end to negative forces against the Government of Rwanda!”
The nine Rwandans, who were released Monday this week were handed over to the Rwandan High Commissioner on Tuesday during a media event that also was attended by Adonia Ayebare, President Museveni’s special envoy. They arrived at Gatuna in the early hours of yesterday, Wednesday, looking exhausted, shell-shocked, but with an indescribable happiness.
Due to the prolonged periods of torture, poor conditions of detention and other abuses, the men were set to undergo an extensive medical check-up to assess their health – with the Ministry of Health set to offer whatever help and care it could. There have been numerous cases of Rwandans, previously illegally detained in the same conditions who were dumped at the different border posts.
They suffered various forms of trauma, physical and psychological, and long-term injuries.
Rutagungira, the most well known of the abductees, was forcefully taken by agents of Uganda Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) from a bar in Bakuli Namirembe, a Kampala neighborhood. That was on August 05, 201. He was detained with no arrest warrant; no court process, nothing legal. He was in detention for well over two years suffering physical torture, and the psychological abuse of not being allowed a visit either from family or Rwandan diplomatic services. The accusations against him kept changing. First it was “espionage”. Then it was “illegal possession of firearms and ammunition”. After that it was “kidnap of Rwandan refugees.”
“All this proved the charges were completely bogus; they couldn’t even show one piece of evidence!” said Eron Kiiza the lead attorney of the Rwandans.
After Rutagungira was abducted, the Ugandan government denied holding him. But CCTV cameras at the bar showed it.
Rutagungira says after three months of torture in the CMI detention facility – it also included beatings at the hands of former Ugandan national security minister Henry Tumukunde – he was taken to be charged at the military tribunal. This was in complete contravention of his rights as a civilian, according to the law.
From the CMI dungeon Rutagungira later was transferred to Luzira, then Makindye Military Barracks where they detained him until the day they were released. “Getting out of Uganda alive and free is indescribable!” He told media when they arrived in Rwanda. “I am just overwhelmed with joy to finally be home!
“I lack words to describe the torture that I was subjected to,” Rutagungira continued. “I cannot thank the government of Rwanda enough for following up and advocating for our release, and the release of other Rwandan nationals jailed in Uganda.”
Nelson Mugabo, 41, who hails from Tabagwe in Nyagatare District, too, is finding it hard to believe he is finally back home. He was taken off the streets to a dungeon, “in a place I never came to know,” he told the media. He was abducted on 18 January 2018, robbed and subjected to beatings with electric cables in the dungeon. He says he did not know what they were almost killing him for.
“I was not able to walk from last year January to April 2019 because of the beatings and other mistreatment. I was carried like a child to move from one place to another. Even when I needed to relieve myself, I couldn’t,” Mugabo narrates almost breaking into tears.
Later they accused Mugabo of the same concocted charge as the others: “spying on the Ugandan government.” But like in all other cases the accusers could produce no evidence to back the charge.
Mugabo almost cries in gratitude for what his country has done to secure his release and that of others. “I don’t know how to thank our government, and the love it has shown for its people; it has done an outstanding job in fighting for our freedom!” he says.
For their part Augustin Rutayisire and his friend Emmanuel Rwamucyo were arrested – with no notification of any offence, but after getting robbed of their money – on 25 May 2018 near Global Petro-Station in Mbarara. They were then driven to Makenke Barracks in Mbarara where they were thrown into detention.
The interrogation was with beatings and kicks by army men accusing them of “being soldiers in the Rwanda military.” The two friends tried to explain they only were businessmen, only in Uganda for business purposes. But their ordeal was just beginning. The beatings only worsened.
They were subjected to starvation for nine days, straight, Rwamucyo disclosed. They were later blindfolded and driven to CMI headquarters at Mbuya Barracks.
After over three months in Mbuya, they then were transferred to Makindye where they spent another three weeks. Rutayisire and Rwamucyo were taken to the general court-martial on September 03, 2019, after months in incarceration. The indescribable suffering went on when they were transferred to Luzira Prison.
While there, for instance, someone one day put ground glass fragments in Rutayisire’s food, which almost killed him. “It was only by the intervention of God that someone was able to get my husband to hospital quickly,” Rutayisire’s wife Betty Mutamba told this website in an interview last year.
Today Betty firmly believes it is God himself that has gotten her husband and the others home.
The others – Claude Iyakaremye, Bahati Mugenga, Etienne Nsanzabahizi, Charles Byaruhanga and Gilbert Urayeneza – each had their particular ordeal, but all in the shared fate of getting arbitrarily arrested on concocted charges.
Rwanda reiterates there still are many of its citizens still detained with no due process in Uganda. It hopes that Uganda’s gesture will lead to the imminent release of all the others. “As ever Rwanda itself remains committed to the implementation of the Luanda Memorandum of Understanding,” a government statement said.