A. The new wave of repression in Uganda has led to the kidnapping of dozens more opposition activists by the security forces and at least one alleged death. Several hundred people are believed to have been detained without trial in the East African country in secret prisons where they are subjected to a brutal regime of ill-treatment. The country has suffered a series of crackdowns designed to crack down on dissent since the presidential election campaign began late last year.
The most recent trigger for the crackdown by the security services appears to have been the swearing-in ceremony of the veteran Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, 76, in April.
Museveni won a sixth term in January in elections denounced as fraudulent by the opposition. Police and other unidentified security agencies mobilized to arrest and detain hundreds in the week before and after the inauguration.
Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, the singer-turned-politician known by his stage name Bobi Wine, who is Uganda’s main opposition leader, told The Guardian that a member of the internal security team was tortured to death by security officers. in the capital, Kampala.
The body of Daniel Apedel was found dumped in the Mulago morgue in Kampala with torture marks on May 22, Wine said. A police spokesman said the 21-year-old had been beaten to death by a mob and that allegations that he had been killed after his arrest were unfounded.
Apedel had told fellow activists that the security authorities were constantly monitoring him and had received threats after rejecting an offer to “work with the government.”
Witnesses heard Apedel plead for mercy with someone he called an “officer” shortly before he disappeared near his home in Kampala’s Kireka district on his way home from work. Three days later, a friend received an anonymous call saying that Apedel’s body was in the morgue.
“They beat him, they beat him, they broke his fingers, they pulled out his teeth… it was serious torture. It was a very disturbing sight to watch, ”Wine said.
Other detainees have had their joints or genitals beaten with wires, burned with cigarettes or had their nails pulled out. Many have been members of Wine’s party, the National Unity Platform (NUP) party.
“We constantly find people dead or dumped on the roadside, and there are many more who are simply rotting in jails across the country,” Wine said.
The NUP has listed more than 700 members and activists who are said to have been detained, but said the true number is likely higher.
Luke Owoyesigire, deputy spokesman for the Kampala Metropolitan Police, said officers had found Apedel’s body at the scene of a reported “mass justice” incident, but could not find witnesses because the incident occurred at night and therefore therefore, “most of the people were already in their homes” obeying a curfew.
He accused Wine of “playing sympathy politics.”
“The man was killed by the mob and the police are investigating who was behind it. There is nothing like torture. [Wine] I should stop drawing conclusions before further investigating the circumstances of the death, ”said Owoyesigire.
In the days leading up to Museveni’s inauguration, police arrested more than 100 opposition activists on suspicion of plotting to disrupt the ceremony. Some have been released, some have appeared in court and others remained in detention, authorities said. Wine’s home has been surrounded by security forces for many months and, although he is allowed out, they are constantly following him.
Among those detained after the inauguration was Kalanzi Sharif, a NUP party worker who was taken from his home at 3 a.m. on May 18 by uniformed and non-uniformed security officers after family members they were forced to reveal their hiding place. Sharif’s whereabouts are unknown, although he is believed to be in police custody.
Four days later, a group of around a dozen men and women were arrested in Mbale, eastern Uganda, apparently suspected of being opposition activists.
Owoyesigire said police operations are ongoing and more arrests are expected, adding that the detainees were offered the opportunity to “work with” the security services.
“As soon as we have information about people who want to sabotage any activity,… we jump into action and make arrests. Those who are not directly involved in the activity, we let go, “he said.
Last week, Uganda’s general military court martial, meeting in Kampala, granted bail to 17 of Wine’s supporters who were arrested in the central Kalangala district in January. Many others have remained in jail while lengthy court proceedings continue. It seems that no large amounts have been charged at all.
Many relatives complain that they have no information about the fate of the abductees. They say the suspects have been denied access to medical treatment and lawyers, as well as contact with their families.
Unmarked vans used by security forces: known as “drones” – They are sometimes visible in traffic images or other surveillance cameras close to the place of the abductions.
The Ugandan army has denied responsibility for the abuses and Museveni, in a national speech in February, dismissed allegations that his forces had illegally detained civilians, saying that the Ugandan army “is a disciplined force” and that his party “is not kills “his opponents. .
However, the president admitted that the security services had more than 200 detainees who, he said, had revealed a “criminal scheme” run by the opposition and instigated by “local parasites” and “foreign backers.”
“Too bad for the traitors,” Museveni said. “These poor [detained] The young people gave us the whole scheme and now they are our friends. “
The mounting evidence of systematic human rights abuses in Uganda has prompted sanctions from the United States and other international powers.
Museveni has been in power for 35 years and has long been perceived as a key ally of Western powers in East Africa. And the UK have given billions of dollars in development aid and security assistance to Uganda in recent years.
Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that visa restrictions would be imposed on those responsible for recent abuses. Uganda has received more than $ 1 billion in US aid each year, as well as £ 150 million in aid from the UK.
Wine called on the international community to stop “sponsoring terror.”
“The people of Uganda are helpless before the people of the world. The international community must not turn a blind eye to what is happening in Uganda. We only ask that Gen Museveni be held accountable for human rights, the rule of law and all the values that unite us all, ”he said.
Documents submitted to the US Department of Justice reveal that the Ugandan government hired a UK-based public relations firm to enhance its international image. The cost of such contracts often runs into the millions of dollars.
Brig Flavia Byekwaso, spokesperson for the Uganda People’s Defense Forces, said that as long as people continue to be caught on the other side of the law, they will be arrested.
“We are not going to skimp on arrests because [Wine] going to talk [about it] … We cannot allow misconduct to occur.
“We will continue to arrest those who are not doing what they are supposed to do,” he said.