What you need to know:
- Military spymaster, Maj Gen James Birungi, confirms Obed Katureebe of the President’s Office, who has been missing for two months, is in their custody after wife penned a dossier to President Museveni, alleging her husband was a victim of games by Kigali actors.
Uganda Media Centre staffer Obed Katureebe, who has been missing for two months, is in Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) custody and, according to his wife Phiona Kanuuna, being interrogated on allegations of criticising Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.
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Maj Gen James Birungi, the Chief of Military Intelligence, which is the army’s investigative arm, last night confirmed that Mr Katureebe, an employee under the Office of the President, was with them.
His admission followed a dossier that Ms Kanuuna authored to President Museveni, with a copy to Maj Gen Birungi himself, in which she alleged that CMI abducted her husband on the orders of First Son/Commander of Land Forces, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
“It is now becoming clear that Gen Kainerugaba is above the law and most worryingly ready to do anything Rwanda asks him to [do] without hesitation,” Ms Kanuuna wrote, asking the President to intervene.
We could not independently verify the claims as our attempt to speak directly to Lt Gen Muhoozi was unsuccessful.
His Military Assistant and Chief of Staff, Col McDans Kamugira, had by press time not reverted to us after we, at his request, shared a copy of the dossier, which was also copied to Lt Gen Muhoozi, to inform the latter’s response.
In the letter dated July 3, Ms Kanuuna noted that her husband’s May 2 arrest was prompted by an allegation that he ran a burner social media account, @Gakwerere, on which President Kagame was pilloried.
She denied any wrongdoing by her husband.
“But assuming the allegations were indeed true, why would allegations by another country (Rwanda) lead to a Ugandan citizen, and an employee of the President’s Office, to be abducted and held incommunicado for over two months? Is Uganda still a sovereign country? Is Uganda still governed by laws? Are we now a colony of Rwanda?” Ms Kanuuna noted.
We were unable to speak to officials of Rwanda’s embassy in Kampala to ascertain the veracity of the claims made to the President by Mr Katureebe’s wife.
In last night’s interview, Maj Gen Birungi said “we have her husband officially, he was not abducted, there are some allegations we are investigating”.
He provided no details of the case against the employee of Uganda Media Centre, a communication clearing outfit under the Office of the President.
“It was not a kidnap,” the army spymaster said of the arrest from home two months ago of Mr Katureebe. He added: “Even the woman (wife Kanuuna) is always given the opportunity to go and see him (Katureebe) every time she wants as we now try to investigate the allegations and then we see whether to continue with [prosecution of] the husband, or we leave him.”
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Maj Gen Birungi declined to respond to Ms Kanuuna’s specific allegations in the dossier, based on her recollection of accounts offered by security contacts, that the two-star military general flew to Kigali on June 5 and during the trip, and what she described as a violation of the accused’s privacy and rights, turned over Mr Katureebe’s laptop and mobile phone handsets, as well as data, to Rwandan counterparts.
“This is not only shameful, but it is also illegal because the devices were taken without a court order and as a family, we intend to take the matter to court,’’ she wrote.
On June 8, this publication reported that Maj Gen Birungi had visited his Rwandan counterpart, the head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), Brig Gen Vincent Nyakarundi, to forge closer intelligence ties after two years of frosty relations between the neighbouring countries.
Relations between Kampala and Kigali were strained over counter accusations of espionage and illegal arrest and detention of each other’s nationals.
Lt Gen Muhoozi applauded the visit on Twitter.
“I thank the two generals for leading the way in normalising our relationships. Have a successful visit to Rwanda, ndugu Birungi. God bless the unity and brotherhood between Uganda and Rwanda,” he tweeted.
Gen Muhoozi was widely praised for brokering an understanding that ended the feuding between the two countries.
Details of Ms Kanuuna’s letter to President Museveni came to light after the Uganda Human Rights Commission, the statutory rights body, ordered security to unconditionally free Mr Katureebe.
His supervisor at work, Mr Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of Uganda Media Centre, last night declined to discuss the fate of the public affairs officer.
In May, Mr Opondo had tweeted that Mr Katureebe had been taken into custody for his own safety. That was two months ago. On Monday, this week, Mr Opondo told this publication that he was misled at the time and now believes “they played fools on me, which is unfortunate and unacceptable”.
“I have demanded each day that they bring this matter to an amicable conclusion consistent with Uganda’s laws,” he said.
Under the Constitution, a suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty and the supreme law of the land obliges any person arrested over suspicion of committing an offence to be arraigned in court, in any case, not later than 48 hours.
The military investigators are yet to explain why they are holding onto Mr Katureebe for months without producing him in court.