At 12.30pm, following a brief stop at a nearby popular stop, Igar fueling station, a few metres from the Jinja dam, the bus carrying legislators on the Committee on Human Rights turned off to Nalufenya Police Station.
After a brief interaction and necessary security procedures, the Ugandan Members of Parliament (MPs) were let in but without their electronics, the first point of contention during the day long interaction with security operatives and detained suspects at the detention facility.
The Committee on Human Rights was in Jinja, following a directive by the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, to visit Nalufenya Police Station, embroiled in allegations of torture of suspects, and assess the condition of suspects detained there.
Kadaga also tasked the Committee chaired by Jovah Kamateeka, to establish the legal status of the facility and inquire from detained persons and Police officers about the allegations of torture against suspects.
Inside the facility, criminal suspects, individually speaking to MPs, denied they had been tortured in Nalufenya or that any torture had been witnessed but said they had been detained without access to legal representation, family or communication.
One of the suspects detained is Kamwenge Town Council Chairman, Geoffrey Byamukama who shade tears, said he had served the NRM for several years but wondered why he, together with several others, had been detained and tortured for alleged involvement in the murder of former Police spokesperson AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi.
Byamukama, held in staff quarters, with proper beddings including a mosquito net narrated his harrowing experience: how he was arrested from the Lands Office on Parliament Avenue in Kampala and how he was handcuffed and tortured using batons (to the knees) and iron bars (to the ankles) leaving him unable to walk, sit or stand before being delivered to Nalufenya.
“I thought about the time I had served government,” he said adding, “The doctors said it will take me time – between six months and a year, before I’ll be able to walk.”
“Officers here were concerned about my condition and have cared for me. I am not sure I would survive if I had been taken elsewhere,” said Byamukama.
Although Byamukama’s account that he was tortured before getting to Nalufenya, where he said he had to be lifted out of the van, tallied with that given by Police officers – ACP Herbert Muhangi, D/SSP Henry Mugumya and ACP James Kusemererwa, the two arresting officers – ASP Patrick Muramira and ASP Fred Tumuhirwa gave a contrary account. Both these officers and two Police drivers Ben Odeke and Roma Habibu have been arrested and are also detained in Nalufenya over allegations of torturing Byamukama.
“We arrested him through phone tracking. We introduced ourselves and explained to him about the ongoing investigations about Kaweesi. We put him in a van and brought him here (Nalufenya),” said Muramira adding “The Mayor was delivered here without any open would or a scratch. He walked from the van to the counter. We can view the images on the CCTV cameras.”
Officers told legislators that several of the suspects in Nalufenya are on charges of terrorism, abetting terrorism, aggravated robbery and murder. Most of the suspects have been detained for over the Constitutional requirement of 48 hours without being produced in court.
Police Spokesperson AIGP Asan Kasingye said that the Uganda Police did not condone torture and that anyone accused of the crime would be arrested. He appealed to MPs not to recommend the closure of Nalufenya detention facility.
“With the information on file, we believe we have the right people (suspects) including those who planned the murder of Kaweesi,” Kasingye said.
“We will put right the issues that we haven’t been doing right such that we protect the people under our custody. If we close Nalufenya, terrorism will not stop. Let us put right the things we have not been doing right, but lets not close Nalufenya,” he added.
Committee Chairperson, Kamateeka asked the Police “not to treat MPs as their enemies but a friendly force” and that their intention was to see that the Force can improve on how it does its work.
MPs said that they had evidence that several suspects detained at the facility had been tortured. They wondered why the facility accepted suspects brought in after being tortured.
The Committee on Human Rights is charged with tracking and reporting on human rights concerns in every business handled by Parliament; and monitors government compliance with national and international human rights instruments to which Uganda is a party and follow up on Government periodic reports to international human rights monitoring bodies.
MPs on the tour included Safia Nalule, Lyandro Komakech, Lilly Adong, Monica Amoding, David Abala, Veronia Isala, Anthony Akol and Lydia Chekwel.
Speaker Kadaga said Parliament would dedicate next Tuesday to debate issues surrounding torture after a presentation of the Statement by the Minister of Internal Affairs and a Report by the Committee on Human Rights.
Members on the Committee left Nalufenya, where 21 suspects are currently detained, as the sun set on the eastern town of Jinja, leaving them with promises of addressing their human rights concerns including having them access legal representation, being arraigned in court and communicating or accepting visits by their relatives.