He gnashes and winces, struggling to move one step at a time. Harrowing pain has been part of his life for almost a decade now. At the moment, he is nearly resigned to his fate.
Yahaya Lukwago’s fate script was written in 2000 when he was arrested by police in Mbale District, charged with aggravated robbery and convicted a few years later. He says though that he was wrongly charged as his only crime was – as special hire driver - driving two clients, who were on police wanted hit list, to a hotel in Mbale. The two clients later escaped and he was arrested.
The owner of that hotel, whom he identifies as Madina Nagudi, and Karim Isiko, a client too, were arrested, convicted by Mbale High Court in 2003 and sentenced to death with him but were later set free on appeal. Along the way, his insistence on his innocence and why the other two were set free remains fodder for debate.
That, however, is not the issue. Following the famous (Susan Kigula and 417 others) case ruling, since his death sentence had not been executed, Nakawa High Court judge, Faith Mwondha mitigated his sentence to 24 months.
A release form MLE: 501/2013 bearing a conviction date February 11, 2013, seen by this newspaper confirms he was released on June 22, 2014.
That freedom nonetheless comes with a heavy emotional burden of a man who claims he was tortured for years in jail and witnessed fellow inmates meet their death at the hands of prison warders. “The families of those inmates to this day do not know that their sons were killed and buried in prison,” he says.
While at Upper Prison in Luzira, “It was a Wednesday, February 18, 2006 when seven of us were tortured. We protested the poor quality food we were being fed on. The posho was sour and some inmates suffered from diarrhoea and others appendicitis. That was our crime.” For this, he claims, they were blacklisted as notorious and charges of fighting and locking out other inmates ‘concocted’.
“John Tusiime, one of the inmates, was beaten and his legs broken. When we leaked information to human rights groups, they were told Tusiime attempted to jump out but I saw him being clobbered until his legs were broken,” Lukwago reminisces sorrowfully.
On June 16, 2006, he was transferred from Luzira upper prison to Kirinya Prison in Jinja together with Tusiime who was on death row having been convicted for murder.
“The Court of Appeal was meant to sit in 2007 and hear our appeal but we were told one judge was sick and we missed that session until May 29, 2008 when it sat and released the other two, leaving me alone,” he says.
It is at this point that his can of worms was opened.
45 days in ‘hell’
In 2009, inmates at the condemn section went on strike. “The prison warders never want to be challenged on anything even if it affects your life. One of us reported one of the wardens to their bosses for being a drunkard and requested for another warden. That annoyed the officer in charge of our ward who ordered his officers to beat us for 45 days,” he recollects, taking a deep sigh and struggling to recompose himself.
He adds: “For the first two weeks (of the 45 days) we were denied food and only fed on hot water and tiny pieces of posho with dishes of sandy bean soup.” The arrangement, as per the OC’s orders, was to have the more than 45 inmates beaten four times a day.
“We were beaten at 6am, 7am, 11am and 4pm with batons, kicked and punched all over the body, my legs are now paralysed and so is the left side of the body,” he says, struggling to show the scars.
The first death he witnessed
On August 7, 2009, an inmate only identified as Abdulkarim from Masaka met his death in the most horrendous of ways.
“I remember him very well. He had no teeth and he was convicted for murder by Masindi High court. He died right under my legs as he was being beaten,” he weepily narrates, adding, “he was beaten so hard that his legs and hands broke, he started vomiting blood and finally died as we all watched. We were later told he was buried within Kirinya Prison.” He was reportedly buried in a place only known as Gologosa in Kirinya prison jargon.
Jenga bridge torture tactic
During the 45 days, Lukwago reveals the use of a torture method called Jenga Bridge.