Cost of torturing Kaweesi suspects rises above Shs1.7b

Saturday May 23 2020

Dialogue. Human rights lawyer Ladislaus

Dialogue. Human rights lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuzi (2nd right) talks to some of the Kaweesi murder suspects at the High Court in Kampala in July 2017. FILE PHOTO 

By Derrick Kiyonga

Over three years since former police spokesperson Andrew Felix Kaweesi, his bodyguard Kenneth Erau and driver, Godfrey Wambewo, were gunned down, the State has done more to accumulate costs payable to people arrested over the killing than resolving the crime.

As things stand now, all 22 suspects who are accused of having a hand in the gruesome murder are out on bail, except two who are still in custody over other charges.

On July 7, 2017, Aisha Ampiire, together with her co-wife Bint Salim, were arrested and taken to Jinja Road Police Station. They were subsequently transferred to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) in Kireka. They were allegedly blindfolded and taught the meaning of pain through repeated beatings as they would later tell court.

As the two mothers were being tortured, their 10 children aged between one to 20 years had been picked up and incarcerated at Naggalama Police Station in Mukono District. No relative, lawyer or doctor was allowed to visit the children. Ampiire and Salim’s crime was simple; they were married to Abdul Rashid Mbazira.

Mbazira was among the scores arrested on suspicion that they had masterminded the triple murder.
On May 15, 2020, Ampiire and Saidat Nansubuga, whose children were also incarcerated, were awarded a total of Shs67m in damages, to be paid by taxpayers by the High Court in Mukono.

This followed a suit they filed, heard by Justice Margret Mutonyi, accusing several police officers of torturing them and their children in total disregard of their rights. They were in the end not charged with any crime.

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“The way the Uganda Police Force treated the children and the mothers violated their constitutional rights under Article 33 and 34, which provide for the rights of women and children respectively,” Justice Mutonyi ruled, adding: “The respondents (Police Officers and Attorney General) violated the unique and natural maternal functions of looking after their children some of whom were of the very tender age of three, four, five, 10, 11 and 13.”

“The drama of arresting wives and children of any of the suspects without such wives or children being suspects themselves is deeply troubling and pathetic,” said Eron Kiiza, the lawyer who represented both Ampiire and Nansubuga in the case.

“It rhymes with the oddity of arrests before investigations. At any rate, it is both illegal and irrational to arrest any person who is not a suspect. What is worse is that the arrested innocents were tortured during lengthy, illegal and incommunicado detention,” he added.

Brian Nyehanganye, the police officer who was at the time in charge of Nagalama Police Station, had tried to disown the decision to detain the children at his station, claiming it was made at the regional office of Kampala Metropolitan East. But Justice Mutonyi, in her 45-page judgment, dismissed the explanation, saying it demonstrates the police officers’ ‘inability, incompetence and ineptitude to execute his statutory duties as a professional police officer in compliance with the Constitution.’

The judge added: “ASP [Assistant Superintendent of Police] Brian Nyehanganye’s affidavit evidence proves further that the police did not have any particular charge against the applicants and were, in spite of filling up their cells at the Central Police Station in Kampala, obsessed with violation of individual rights in total disregard of the restrictions under the 1995 Constitution of Uganda.”

Tip of the iceberg
The cost of torturing detainees accused of murdering Kaweesi was first felt just six months after the lanky police officer was put out of action. Mbaziira and 21 co-accused were in October of 2017 awarded Shs1.7b by the High Court.

Justice Margaret Oguli-Oumo, who has since retired, awarded the suspects the windfall after she was convinced that they had been tortured and treated in a cruel and inhumane manner by security agents during and after their arrests. The suspects, who were in this particular case applicants, asserted that in the aftermath of Kaweesi’s murder, they were arrested from different parts of the country and unlawfully detained in military custody.

After testing military confinement, they were shifted to the then dreaded Nalufenya Detention Centre, which Inspector General of Police Martins Okoth-Ochola, said he shut down and downgraded to an ordinary police station shortly after he assumed office from Gen Kale Kayihura.

In their affidavits in support of their pleadings, the suspects narrated how they were tormented by security operatives through systematic beatings, head bangings, electrocution, waterboarding, and that they were wrapped in plastic bags.

Reunion. Some of the children reunite with
Reunion. Some of the children reunite with their parents at Kira Division Police Station in Wakiso District in 2017. PHOTO BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA

Justice Oguli-Oumo didn’t want to take the applicants’ allegations at face value. So she ordered doctors from the African Centre for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims to examine the applicants. The organisation defines itself as a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the promotion of human rights with emphasis on advocacy against torture as well as treatment and rehabilitation of survivors of torture by the State and non-state actors.

The results were unambiguous, the applicants had been battered by security agents.
“The only way to find the truth on the allegations of torture is to subject you to a medical examination. Court got a chance to see you when you were brought to court. Some were using sticks to support themselves; others were limping, which they did not have at the time of their arrest,” Justice Oguli-Oumo eventually ruled.

In fact, of the 22 applicants, the rehabilitation centre’s doctors managed to examine only 19. Luzira prison authorities blocked the physicians from examining the other three individuals and the prison dared to write indicating how that they would not fully comply.
To Justice Oguli-Oumo, this refusal to allow independent medical examination of some of the applicants amounted to crossing the proverbial Rubicon. “If they didn’t torture them,” Justice Oguli-Oumo argued, “Why did they refuse to allow the doctors to see them?”

The abuse at the hands of State agents, Justice Oumo- Oguli said, breached Article 24 of the Constitution, which stipulates thus: “No person shall be subjected to any form of torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment,” and thereafter ordered on top of parting with Shs1.7b, the government to pay costs of the case and meet the medical bills of the suspects. The government has not paid up, to-date.

More rearrests
Even with such clear indications that courts would not stand human rights violations of the suspects, security agencies kept on rearresting them after various courts had awarded them bail.

In 2019, Justice Lydia Mugambe Ssali released Yusuf Nyanzi, Jibril Kalyango and Yusuf Mugerwa on bail, but they were immediately rearrested by security operatives and later deposited at SIU in Kireka. They were released 19 days later by the High Court Judge Henrietta Wolayo after police had slapped them with a new charge of belonging to a terrorist organisation, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a charge they deny.

There was also mayhem in 2017 when Mr Noah Sajjabi, then the Grade One Magistrate at Nakawa court, released Ahmed Ssenfuka, Musa Ntende, Hassan Tumusiime, Ibrahim Kissa, Hamid Magambo, Abdul- Majid Ojerere, Sauda Ayub, Osman Muhammed Omar, and Asuman Mugoya.

He also released Ibrahim Ssemwanga, alias Superman and Swaleh Ddamulira, on mandatory bail after they had spent more than six months on remand without being committed to the High Court for trial.

But Ssenfuka, Kissa, Maganda and Ojerere’s freedoms were short-lived as shabbily dressed men brandishing pistols snatched them as they headed home from court on boda-bodas.

One of the armed men sporting a dirty jacket and canvas shoes dotted with holes pointed a pistol at a howling Ssenfuka, who was half-naked after his clothes were torn off his body during the melee. The suspect was violently shoved into a car and driven away to SIU, and it took the intervention of court yet again for the suspects to be released.

Three years later
Three years after the ruckus, Mr Anthony Wameli, one of the lawyers who has been representing the suspects to see to it that their freedoms were respected, said they intend to file another civil suit, now accusing the State of violating rights of these suspects and they will be demanding for damages they are yet to quantify.

“We have been busy with Tumukunde,” Mr Wameli said referring to the treason case which was brought against presidential hopeful Lt Gen Henry Tumukunde earlier this year.

“We are soon filing a case. During those re-arrests, our clients were tortured for no good reason and they must be compensated,” he added.
Even the eight suspects out of the 22 who were committed for trial to the High Court on October 24, 2017, have never heard from the State when their trial will commence, Mr Wameli said.

“We have never seen any shred of evidence disclosed to us. We asked the Director of Public Prosecutions last year about the case but they said they weren't ready,” he added.

“It shows two more things: The police were not truly interested in pursuing Kaweesi’s murderers and were covering up the deficiency in pointless and dramatic pursuit of people who knew nothing about the matter. It also shows the impunity of security operatives in not even caring when they arrested children as young as three,” Kiiza concluded.

Murder of Andrew Felix Kaweesi

AIGP Kaweesi, 43, was assassinated by unknown gunmen on March 17, 2017, alongside his driver Godfrey Wambewo and bodyguard Kenneth Erau at Kulambiro, a Kampala suburb. Kaweesi’s body is said to have taken 27 bullets, his bodyguard took 33 bullets, while his driver was shot 11 times.

Killer weapon
From the pockmarks on the car, investigators believe the assailants did not use the commonly available AK-47 assault rifles. They are believed to have used the specialised M4 guns. No claim of responsibility, no individual or terrorist group claimed responsibility for the attack.
Initially, the death of Kaweesi, who was also the spokesperson of the police, was quickly attributed to the Allied Democratic Forces, a rebel group; that once fought to dislodge the NRM government and reportedly has bases and runs operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) .

Killed near home, police post
The shooting took place about 600 metres outside Mr Kaweesi’s home, another 100 metres or so from a small trading centre with some shops and a boda boda stage. The area has a local police post about 300 metres away.

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