Military police have been deployed at Luzira Upper Prison, extra-curricular activities for convicts banned and seven-tier security screening effected for visitors to the national detention facility.
A Sunday Monitor investigation has uncovered a new practice by prison warders doing a body-search, including the loins, of visitors to the prison before they get clearance past the first check-point. They are not bothered by the utter violation of people’s privacy.
Our undercover reporter was compelled to remove shoes, socks and step on dirty floor in a search room the size of secondary school cubicle, as a warder dipped his scaly hands through his waistline. A female visitor separately complained her bra was targeted and breasts fondled as a wardress scoured for any hidden items.
Uganda Prisons spokesman Frank Baine on Friday justified the new “regulations as necessary to close some security gaps” following reported jailbreaks at the prison, but said in his wisdom they do not amount to violation of any human right.
Armed military police have reinforced warders to co-manage the first checkpoint at the prison’s main gate. The foot patrol inside the prison is managed the same way. The changes, including restrictions on visitors driving into the facility, follow the escape of two high-profile convicts from the national maximum-security prison and the foiling on Wednesday of another who tried to flee disguised in a religious cleric garb. The first to escape from Ward 17 on July 12 was Moses Nuwagaba, a former soldier, who was serving a 65-year sentence for raping a Catholic nun and committing aggravated robbery in Mbarara District.
Inside sources told this newspaper that Nuwagaba took advantage of an unlocked door after a prisoners’ head-count exercise, sneaked through the under-renovation carpentry section of the prison before scaling over the high perimeter wall fence.
Panicky warders, fearing further security breaches, reportedly sometimes lock the prisoners up in cells as early as 1pm, and visitation time has been cut back by one hour from 4pm to 3pm.
And guests-- irrespective of how far they have travelled from to visit-- are given a maximum of 10 minutes to speak to the convicts, and a senior prisons officer, Ocen Odwe, violently yanked our undercover journalist for holding conversation with a convict beyond the permissible time.
The Prisons authority denies allegations that the warders have become ruthless; re-introducing corporal punishments and torturing prisoners. “Our officers are aware of rights of prisoners and there is no mistreatment or torture,” said spokesman Baine.
The upper wing of Luzira prisons is a maximum security facility where Uganda’s most feared criminals are secluded and news of some escaping has triggered strict multiple administrative measures, which have in turn overwhelmed the warders, resulting in long queues of visitors.
Our investigations reveal that after the tightening of security following the first jailbreak on July 12, another prisoner identified as Moses Kasumba ran away from the home of one of the prison officers where he had been assigned to milk a cow! He had about four years remaining on his sentence.
And on Wednesday, another convict called Fabian Medyabandyaho, reportedly dressed in robes like a cleric walked through two gates by tricking the guards, but ran out of luck at the last exit because he lacked a visitor’s card to check out. “He told guards at the first two gates: Praise God! They replied: Amen, and opened the gates for him,” said a colleague familiar with the botched escape.
Religious leaders routinely visit the prison to minister to inmates, but it remains unclear how a prisoner acquired the garb. Warders reportedly beat up Medyabandyaho upon arrest, an allegation officials deny. He is serving 27 years for robbery and murder in Luweero District. The escapees are interestingly all of Rwandan origin, trained soldiers and stayed in the same wing, pointing to a probable meticulous planning of their exit.
Spokesman Baine said whereas the escape of even one prisoner is unsettling for them, there is nothing “unusual” generally about prison break, with about 40 cases registered at Upper Luzira alone since 1990. “This was a wake-up call for us, we had to close (security) gaps as investigations [into the escapes] are underway, he said. “The security situation is now okay.”
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