Parliament was yesterday locked in debate as lawmakers clashed over a report by an ad hoc committee that investigated the brutality from the Arua by-election and blamed security operatives for torturing Opposition legislators and their supporters.
The run-up to debating the report became contentious after President Museveni met NRM MPs on August 27 and warned them that any discussions relating to the report would offend the law on sub-judice rule because four MPs and 31 supporters are facing treason charges.
Mr Museveni reiterated his position in his August 31 letter to Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, in which he insisted that the word “torture” should not be used in debating the health situation of bed-ridden legislators and other Opposition supporters that were injured, until an inquiry by the Chief of Defence Forces and Inspector General of Police establishes what happened.
But Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah yesterday ruled that debate on committee report does not offend the rule on sub-judice, paving the way for the debate as Opposition MPs accused the ruling NRM government of torturing their colleagues while the NRM side dismissed the report as inadequate.
Trouble started when Mr Oulanyah barred Ayivu County MP Bernard Atiku from presenting the report on the basis that he signed it before it was officially completed and delegated Mitooma Woman MP Jovah Kamateeka to table it.
MPs engaged then in bitter exchanges with the Security minister, Gen Elly Tumwine, complaining that Lwemiyaga County MP Theodore Ssekikubo had attempted to grab him with “dirty hands” and insisted that Parliament was not in order.
Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the leader of government business in the House, was also heckled as he tried to pour cold water on the report.
At some point, murmurs from a host of backbenchers and in particular from Mr Ssekikubo forced Dr Rugunda to ask for protection.
Tempers were further escalated when State Minister for Housing Chris Baryomunsi claimed that Arua Hill Division councillor Night Asara, who was pictured in court bleeding, may have been undergoing her menstrual periods.
“As a medical doctor, I would be the last person to underrate somebody’s medical condition but I would also be the last person to allow somebody use a medical condition to play politics,” Dr Baryomunsi said.
The ad hoc committee had established that Ms Asara was reportedly suffering blood hemorrhage from her private parts and that her condition was symptomatic of the effects of “brute force and savagery either at arrest or during detention.”
The report indicates that two of the women who were arrested in Arua could neither sit nor stand as they groaned in excruciating pain on the floor of the suspects’ holding facility at the Gulu Magistrate’s Court.
“One of the female suspects informed the committee that her baby of barely 16 months with whom she was arrested had been left behind in Arua,” the report reads.
The Prime Minister stoked more fires when he demanded that the report be rejected and branded it “biased” and “unsubstantiated”, saying MPs that investigated the violence that followed the Arua by-election were “not united and coherent.”
“I have not seen the report talking to President Museveni who was the first victim to be pelted with stones. The report was written under the heat of the occurrences that were taking place and as a result, we see a lot of biased positions some of which are unsubstantiated,” Dr Rugunda said. Soroti Woman MP Angeline Osege hit back at the Prime Minister, saying he should have apologised rather than defending torture.
“If this was an exam, he would have failed flat. He just rose to defend what in my opinion is indefensible. If the MPs were not tortured, why would they go abroad for treatment? I expected the Prime Minister to apologise,” Ms Osege said.
Bujenje County MP Patrick Kasumba said the report does not give a definitive account of why MPs Robert Kyagulanyi [Kyadondo East], alias Bobi Wine, and Mr Francis Zaake [Mityana Municipality] were tortured.
With the House failing to reach consensus on how to proceed with the report, Mr Oulayah proposed that the resolution be passed demanding that security operatives who engaged in acts of rights abuse should be punished.
The government will also report back to Parliament in one month pending conclusion of on-going inquiries by the Chief of Defence Forces and Inspector General of Police.