If Zaake can be tortured in custody, what awaits the common person?

Recently, Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake was photographed standing next to small, tied up green plastic bags containing what may have been tokens of food for distribution to his constituents during the Covid-19 lockdown period. Zaake was arrested by security operatives on April 19 for allegedly harbouring intentions to distribute food.

Ten days later, on April 29, it was reported that Zaake was in poor health and was depending on a machine at Kiruddu hospital to breathe, with doctors considering putting him in intensive care.

Presidential directive
It is alleged that Zaake was tortured by security operatives for his desire to distribute food against a presidential directive, a matter police say they are investigating.

“He has not been poisoned or had his ribs broken like some people are saying. He is in good condition contrary to reports that he is dead,” said police spokesperson Fred Enanga.

This is not the first time that MP Zaake has been tortured with impunity by security operatives. In August 2018, Zaake ended up on life support after being tortured and dumped unconscious at Rubaga Hospital at 3am. Unfortunately, the culprits were never identified and brought to book.

Even today, it is highly unlikely that the perpetrators of this alleged torture will be apprehended. According to the Mityana chief magistrate, Mr Elias Kakooza, when Zaake appeared in court on Monday, April 27, he was unable to stand, walk or sit. The magistrate had no option but order that Zaake seek medical attention first before his case is heard.

While giving directives on the distribution of relief food in March, President Museveni ordered the arrest of those directly handing over food to members of the public.

“I direct police to arrest persons distributing food to people. That is looking for cheap popularity, because you’re going to make people gather which is risky, you will be charged with attempted murder,” the President ordered.

But following the selective manner in which the MP was arrested, the President spoke on the issue while addressing the nation on Tuesday, April 28.

“How do you arrest Hon Zaake in this Covid-19 fight and leave the National Resistance Movement (NRM) Members of Parliament, including ministers? This will have to be looked into,” he said.

Luckily, while no harm will come to NRM ministers who distributed food illegally against presidential directives, MP Zaake is nursing some serious injuries that could result in permanent damage.

In 1948, following the horrific abuses and torture during World War II, the United Nations General Assembly inserted the prohibition against torture in the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 5 states that, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Also, Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by 153 countries, of which Uganda is also a signatory, condemns subjecting anyone to torture.

If people’s representatives in Parliament can be repeatedly tortured by security operatives with impunity, without any reprimand or legal consequences, what then awaits the ordinary citizen?

This puts Uganda in a situation where it fails to honour and observe its international obligations on human rights, and therefore the ordinary people should brace themselves for the tough times whenever in the hands of security operatives.

Ms Victoria Nyeko is a media commentator.
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