On March 22, 2017, the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura arrived at State Lodge Nakasero in the company of three police officers; Nickson Agasirwe, Moses Kasiba and Ahmed Ssemujju, better known by the pseudonym Minaana.
It was a breezy morning in the leafy Nakasero neighbourhood, five days after the assassination of former Police Spokesman Andrew Felix Kaweesi, his guard and driver in the city suburb of Kulambiro, Nakawa Division.
Security and Intelligence agencies were on tenterhooks and in overdrive to find the killers. And when the IGP and team were ushered into the meeting, he reportedly told President Museveni that the trio had clues and was in pole position to arrest the gunmen.
Convinced, the President gave a go-ahead. In the ensuing operation which the three senior officers led, Hassan Tumusiime and Musa Abubaker Ntende were arrested. The duo was among 13 suspects charged on April 21 with the murder of Kaweesi, his driver and guard. They were remanded to Luzira Maximum Security Prison.
Yesterday, another batch of nine suspects were charged still over Kaweesi’s death including counts of terrorism, murder and theft.
Sources familiar with the investigations have told this newspaper that Mr Tumusiime and Mr Ntende told their interrogators that Mr Geoffrey Byamukama, who turned out to be the Kamwenge Town Council mayor, was one of the masterminds of Kaweesi’s killing.
Police pounced on Mr Byamukama who was on a visit to Kampala, arrested and drove him away to its dreaded Nalufenya detention facility in the eastern Jinja District where they held him incommunicado.
The mayor was not among those charged on April 21 because, according to relatives and friends, he was innocent but had all the same been badly tortured and injured.
And two weeks ago, just about the time his co-accused were arraigned in court, police secretly wheeled him out to Nakasero Hospital where the brutality unleashed on him in secrecy manifested on his hospital bed to the shock of health workers through deep, septic wounds on both knees and ankles.
Those who have visited him, among them Kamwenge Town Council speaker Eric Rugyenye, were horrified by the damage and pain inflicted on their leader and chairman of the ruling NRM party in his area for the last 15 years.
“He told me that he was tortured by beating him with different tools until he developed wounds while he was at Nalufenya. He couldn’t tell us more about what the interrogators asked him,” Mr Rugyenye said yesterday, adding: “He told me that he has been in hospital for two weeks, but his condition is still not good. The wounds are still fresh. I can tell you he is a very innocent man.”
Nakasero hospital business development manager Julius Mugisha, who is also the spokesman, said he would not comment on Byamukama’s condition because he had not got a briefing about the patient.
The detention facility at Nalufenya is managed by Police Flying Squad Unit and is a home where suspected hard core criminals are incarcerated and interrogated.
The mayor is not the only victim who has come out of the place wounded. Many of the 13 suspects charged over Kaweesi’s killing on April 21 limped in agony, alleging exposed wounds on their torso were marks of signature torture at a government facility.
Police at the time swiftly denied the allegations, and the Force spokesman Asan Kasingye in a statement said Uganda Human Rights Commission chairman Med Kaggwa had visited the place and gave it a clean bill of health of rights observance.
Mr Kasingye yesterday declined to respond to our inquiries about the damage done to Byamukama whose hospital bill is reportedly being picked by police that took him there and has kept active surveillance on him.
Mr Meddie Mulumba, a commissioner with the statutory rights arm and who accompanied his chairman Kaggwa to Nalufenya, told Daily Monitor yesterday that the police misrepresented the facts.
“They were being held incommunicado. We told them that torturing suspects is an offence and they will be held responsible as individuals,” he said.
Under the Anti-Torture Act, government officials can be prosecuted in their individual capacity in culpable of torturing anyone. The suspects detained at Nalufenya, he said, told them during the visit that they had been tortured, but couldn’t say where since they were blind-folded during the physical assault.
“They told us that the arresting officers blind-folded them and tortured them before they were taken to Nalufenya. The question is who the arresting officers were. And why did [police at Nalufenya] to receive tortured suspects,” Mr Mulumba said.
Whereas the mayor’s arrest and subsequent torture is discussed elsewhere as a rights breach, to his family, there is a sense of personal loss and hopelessness after the wife and children were denied access to him.
His wife Viola Komugisha Adyeeri, 52, said her husband had travelled to Kampala, among other things, to buy for her some costly medicines.
“He was the only one buying for me the drugs at Shs300,000 per week since I went down with a back problem last August. Since he was arrested, I haven’t taken any drugs apart from buying pain killers,” Ms Komugisha, a mother of four, told this newspaper yesterday in an interview at her home in Karutusi village, Kamwenge ward in Kamwenge town council.
She added: “We want government to allow us as a family to visit Byamukama.”
After the mayor’s disappearance more than a month ago, his phones went off and Komugisha said she reported to police, the area Member of Parliament and the Kamwenge Resident District Commissioner who chairs the security committee. Relatives looked for him in police cells in Kampala in vain.
“When Kaweesi was killed [on March 17, 2017], my husband was here in a council meeting,” Ms Komugisha said.
Mr Byamukama’s situation has alarmed and riled his work and ruling NRM party colleagues and friends.
His deputy Francis Mwesigye said: “Really, how can our government torture our mayor like that, if it was not for Geoffrey (Mayor) Kamwenge would have been taken over by the opposition long ago.”
“I myself found him in hospital last week tortured, with wounds. Arresting him is okay [if he has a case to answer], but why torture him,” Mwesigye said.
Mr John Kavuma, a councillor representing Kamwenge Ward on the town council and also a secretary for Finance, said they now have a leadership vacuum.
“We are hurt over Mr Byamukama’s arrest and as council, we miss him so much; we don’t know why he was arrested, government hasn’t told us,” said Ms Blackseda Kwesiga.
“I have hated my government after seeing the pictures of our mayor tortured, said Mr Kasim Katongore, an NRM cadre. “Why do this before asking us? If it necessitates, we shall [surrender] our NRM T-shirts and cards to the Resident District Commissioner.”
According to Mr Rugyenye, police detectives told them during the visit that Mr Byabakama would be released since his arrest was a “mistaken identity”. Police did not, he said, elaborate or justify the torture.
The investigations into Kaweesi’s murder has caused some disquiet among different agencies amid allegations that some of the police officers involved appear inclined to sabotage it to prevent possible self-incriminating evidence.
According to the 2015 Uganda Human Rights Commission report, police is still the leading human rights violator and responsible for 50 per cent of all reported cases. Of the 760 cases registered by the commission, 385 were against the police.
Currently, it is only Uganda Human Rights Commission that is allowed to visit police facilities.
Mr Sam Nsubuga, the head of African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims, said they applied to visit Nalufenya facilities to see if they adhere to the human rights standards, but the police didn’t respond to the request.
“There is need to ratify the Optional Protocol Convention against Torture which allowed non-state actors to visit detention centres to see if they measure to the international human rights standards,” he said.
Who is Byamukama?
A popular politician with roots in para-military service, Byamukama sprang to prominence by taking a frontline action against the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebel incursion. He enlisted as Local Defence Unit operative and became a commander of the outfit by 1996, serving up to 2002 when ADF rebels were annihilated. His fierceness earned him the venerable nickname Commander Geof. After the end of the war, he joined active politics and has served as the local chairman of the ruling NRM party for the last 15 years, helping to mobilise Kamwenge to vote by 90 per cent for the party. Byamukama himself was elected the chairman of the Town Council, although residents prefer to call him Mayor.