I was arrested while fleeing to exile, says Mugumya

Mr Sam Mugumya, Forum for Democratic Change activist. FILE PHOTO

It is one year and two months since you were arrested and what the world has known about your situation is speculation. Can you take us through the when, how, who and why of what happened to you?
I was in Rukungiri in October last year and had just finished a case of an alleged robbery in court which had just been dismissed. I got a call from an old boy in the security services I cannot disclose who told me of an impending arrest that had reached execution level. He did not disclose the charge. My best option was to look for a way out. Basing on this information and what I had gone through, I looked for the nearest border and crossed with four others.

Who are these four others?
Aggrey Kamukama, a businessman in Rukungiri Town, Steven Mugisha, a trader, Nathan Bright and Joseph Kamugisha, a boda boda rider. We are all Forum for Democratic Change activists. So when we crossed, Congolese authorities got us and we explained our plight.

Their questions centred around why we entered illegally. We told them we are activists facing political persecution in Uganda. They then contacted Uganda’s immigration at Ishasha border which sent a team. In that team was a gentleman who recognised me.

He shouted, “I know him, he is a troublemaker. He can’t just be running away.” I explained to the Congolese authorities how in 2011 I was charged with treason, and later robbery. They then decided we be detained. I was taken to a barracks at a place called Nyamirima near the border where we were detained for three days. We were arrested on October 21.

We spent a night at Ruchuru Police Station and then we were taken to Goma to an army cell where I spent four days and I was later taken to Beni. The other four remained in Goma.

Did they explain why you were separated?
They didn’t say.

What happened in Beni?
I found officers from Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence who interrogated me about the Allied Democratic Forces. One of the most painful things I witnessed is someone die out of suffocation and unfortunately I leaned against his dead body for the entire night.

How did you know they were CMI operatives? Were they clad in uniform?
They had army uniform and they introduced themselves to me as such. On the first day, they were two. They asked if I had links with ADF then shortly after said I was coming to link up with the People’s Redemption Army.
I told them I was just running away from your brutal regime. On the second day, another set of three CMI operatives came. I remained in Beni for three weeks before I was called for a joint interrogation between Congolese authorities and CMI.
They debated if to bring us back to Uganda or hold us in Congo.

So where are you now?
I am in Kinshasa in a prison called Ndoro. The other four were eventually brought here too.

How were you treated during, after the arrest and in the different detention centres you were taken to and where you are at the moment?
The conditions were pretty rough before we arrived in Kinshasa. We were served starvation rations, pinch sized posho and beans that could hardly be enough for all. They were generous with water. We were detained in a very small crowded place in the first week in Beni, two prisoners suffocated to death.

The place was so crowded that somebody would sleep between your legs, on arrival we were thoroughly beaten by the prisoners we found there. I think it is the culture here to beat new prisoners. It was life of smoke, starvation, sweat and slaps.
In Kinshasa, the conditions are better though crowding is still a challenge; the food rations are bigger though not enough, we are served palm sized balls of posho. Otherwise, everything else is the normal prison life really.

What is your offence? What did the CMI officers and Congolese authorities say?
Ambassador James Kinobe came here and told us they were considering charging us with illegal entry then another time he said rebellion. We don’t know, we are simply marking time, but in spite of all this, we remain unshaken, moving from immediate danger as we did is not cowardice.
You may remember that Moses fled from Pharaoh. When a revolutionary commits martyrdom then the cause is sacrificed. Self-preservation is key in revolutionary struggle. You have to live to see the next day of the struggle.

Did you get in touch with Dr Kizza Besigye before you crossed to Congo and after?
We have talked to him personally. We are in touch through other channels. They sent two lawyers here from Kampala whom I cannot name for obvious reasons. They are trying to do all they can to help us out of this dire situation, but I guess they are trapped in elections. We understand their limitations as well.

The regime back home accuses you of involvement in subversion, terrorism to be precise and government spokesman Ofwono Opondo and UPDF spokesman Paddy Ankunda both stand by this claim. What is your take?
It is not true I was involved in subversive activities. I have been involved in legitimate activism which is a fundamental right, to support or oppose a regime. But Mr Museveni and his henchmen like all tyrants mistake principled Opposition for subversion. There is a history to this. In 2011, Ingrid Turinawe, Francis Mwijukye and I were charged with terrorism and the case fell flat because it had no legal limbs and was built on falsehoods.
Repeating these same allegations is essentially putting into perspective why we are here. Museveni has always made his position clear; that he is not comfortable with courts granting bail to capital offence suspects.
Of course, he is not interested in the rapists and murderers; he is simply clothing it as capital offences to net political activists. We are the real target.

I suspect you have established basic rapport with Congolese authorities so far. What do they tell you about when you will return home and why you are held in their prisons?
They don’t know, but we get the sense that the plan is to hold us here because the government here doesn’t care, it is under no pressure from anyone and feels not accountable to anyone. The regime in Uganda plays the innocent part, throwing the ball back to Congo who are under no pressure.

This is some form of extraordinary rendition which developed with the war on terror where countries circumvent their own justice systems. We appeal to everyone to oppose this travesty of justice. We have spent 420 days without trial; that is more than 10,000 hours in detention without being charged.

Some people in your own party actually intimate in hushed tones that the government allegation holds water. Your tone here lends credence to the same. Are you seeking equity with clean hands?

It is not true. Why would we, whom Paddy Ankunda and Ofwono Opondo accuse of treason, be detained here? Why can’t we be taken home to face trial and prove our innocence and our accusers prove our guilt?
In fact, a senior government official I will not name told us the plot is to keep us here till the government in Uganda feels they have had enough of us here because they think we shall get bail, as we have always done when they slapped trumped up charges on us.

Are those actions of a regime with a genuine case against us? But back to my party members you quote. Firstly, I don’t know who are they are, but you know we have some shadowy members who are blue during day and yellow at night. So some of the things you hear are choreographed to lend credibility to what the regime is saying. We challenge anyone to bring evidence. We actually yearn to be produced in court. Our conscience is clear.

Government of Uganda certainly didn’t take you to Congo. The responsibility to have you arraigned in court, since you illegally entered Congo lies on that country. Have their authorities explained why they are keeping you there?
They are not telling us anything. They just put us here, locked and forgot about us. We are just here marking time. We intend to petition the African Court on Civil and Political Rights to intervene. We have kept quiet for far too long and we cannot keep quiet anymore.

Did CMI make any offers or threats? How did they treat you?
They attempted to threaten me, but I made my point clear that I cannot be intimidated. They said they could do anything and the world will never know I was arrested or even ever lived.

I reminded them that we have nothing to fear for those who kill the flesh. They asked if I wanted to return to Uganda and I told them yes of course. The next thing they said was if this was possible in ways other than the court system. I told them to forget about it if they didn’t want to have me return to Uganda using transparent channels.

Let’s return to your arrest and the circumstances therein. This security person whom you claim alerted you of an impending arrest and ‘serious charge’, did he say what the charge was and why you were targeted?
He is my old boy and he comes from my home area that is why I acted swiftly because I trust him. He only said the government is preparing a grave offence against me.

Did you contact Dr Besigye or the FDC for that matter and even your family?
If my memory serves me right, Doctor was not around at that time. I had thought after my escape I would get back. We didn’t have time to make elaborate plans.

Now why did you choose to jump from the frying pan to the fire? Congo has all these gory stories of impunity and lawlessness. It couldn’t have been a safe haven for anyone facing persecution anywhere.
Congo was the nearest border to my area. If you were in my shoes and if only you had an idea of the situation we were in at the time you would have appreciated why we crossed to Congo.
We never told anyone we were fleeing the country, the whole plan was kept to the five of us. We had less than 30 hours to get out of danger.

So how long did you intend to stay in Congo?
Our plan was to see if we could be relocated, not to put up a home here. So the plan was to first get out quietly then organise and connect to another country.

Would I be right to conclude and tell the world that Mr Mugumya was fleeing to exile?
Yes, you would be right. I was indeed fleeing to exile.

In your estimation, how much longer do you think you will stay in this prison?
I honestly don’t know. We cannot tell. We are marking time as I said earlier. The future is bleak. There are actually about 40 Ugandans in this prison, some are from ADF.

In fact, there is one caught from ADF a year ago, he was shot and a bullet lodged in his body near the kidney. He is now rotting away and is on pain killers. Anytime we shall watch him die. We are helpless. That is why we appeal to everyone who has a heart for humanity to come to our rescue because government works best under pressure.

Have you been visited by human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and our own Human Rights Commission?
Not yet. We still await with optimism intervention of all men and women of goodwill.

The government says it has no reason to persecute you because you are, in the words of Opondo, inconsequential.
But why have they in the past thrown all these ridiculous trumped up charges against us if we are inconsequential? Why are they colluding with the Congolese government to hold us here? I doubt Ofwono Opondo listens to himself and I think he shoots without aiming, speaks and thinks later.

Government also says they have no extradition treaty with Congo and that explains why it has taken longer than usual to have you brought here to face trial.
That is strange because there are many Ugandans who have been taken from Congo to Uganda. You recall one time a group arrested in Ituri was taken to Uganda for trial. Why then does this extradition talk now arise in regard to us? Our detention here has everything to do with the Museveni regime. Anyway, I just find it strange that Congo which sued Uganda in the International Court of Justice can now do Museveni’s dirty work and help him torment activists fleeing from harm.

What is your message?
I have three messages. The first is to Ugandans. In the end we shall prove that tyranny is nothing but a harmless dragon that scares children but cannot do much more than that.

To the strugglists, all gallant strugglists should remember that you don’t kiss tyranny out of power, you kick out, you don’t smile tyranny away, you smoke out, you don’t caress tyranny away, you crash it, you don’t convince it away, you compel it out.

The rise of liberty will warm to those who stand up for their freedom before touching those who kneel and beg for their rights.

The last message is to the enemy. To him we say, he should be sure that we have resolve, fear no sacrifice and are ready to surmount all obstacles to ensure liberty, justice and equality flourish in our motherland Uganda at least within our lifetime.

This is an ideal we hope to achieve or we shall die trying. He has nothing to fear because he shall reap justice when his kingdom and vampire state eventually falls.

Thank you Mr Mugumya and we wish you the best of luck in your pursuit for justice.
Thank you too. Allow me dedicate to the strugglists back home the book of first Corinthians chapter 10 verse thirteen, to the enemy Isaiah chapter two verse 10 and to the oppressed Ugandans Isaiah chapter 14 verse four.