The National Resistance Movement (NRM) spokesperson, Ofwono Opondo, has equated the controversial Nalufeenya police station in Jinja to the infamous United States military prison, Guatanamo Bay, which was a few years ago notoriously known for torturing high caliber criminals especially terrorists by United States Army.
Ofwono, who was on Saturday appearing on the Capital Gang Talk show said Nalufeenya has good buildings that are well protected with a water source, the river Nile that he says makes it more secure to handle high case criminals like it is in Guantanamo Bay.
The show hosted by journalist, Oscar Semweya Musoke and aired on Capital Radio had a discussion on torture among its topics of the day with other panelists, Forum for Democratic Change‘s Spokesperson, Semujju Nganda, NRM’s Lydia Wanyoto and a Kampala based lawyer Nanfuka Kasule.
While defending the relevance of Nalufenya, Ofwono admitted that the police station can be compared to Guantanamo Bay after Semujju reminded him that the facility had recently been turned into a ‘Guatanamo Bay’ of sorts by police due to it’s recent rampant reports on torture.
“Yes it qualifies to be a Guatanamo Bay because of its good facilities to handle hardcore criminals,”Ofwono said prompting, Semweya, the programme moderate to ask, “ Ofwono, Did you just say yes to Nalufenya being a Guantanamo Bay?”
“Yes, yes, yes, Guatanamo Bay in the sense that it is better protected,” Ofwono said, sending panelists in the studio into uncontrolled laughter.
Guatanamo Bay, located within the Guatanamo Bay Naval Base, which fronts in Cuba had been opened in the after math of the 9/11 attacks on the US. Attempts by former US President, Barrack Obama, to have the facility closed have so far proved unsuccessful given the slow process of its closure to date. Obama had in 2009 signed an executive order to have the facility closed due to an outcry rights activists who accused the US government of using the facility to target the Muslim population whom they said are severely tortured in a bid to get confessions from them to admit have links to terrorism activities.
Ofwono, explained that like Kireka which is a gazetted police station, Nalufeenya police station was set up for the purpose of dealing with the emerging challenges of hardcore robbers and terrorists in the country.
He however, said that due to past reported cases of robbers and terrorism suspects escaping from the Kireka facility especially through the mabati (iron sheet roofs), Nalufeenya which had initially been gazetted as a police facility meant to protect the Nile Bridge, was found to be the best alternative for detaining such hardcore suspects.
Below is a recording featuring the discussions during the talk show on 91.3 Capital FM
The talk show was discussing the recent torture cases reportedly by police at Nalufeenya involving suspects arrested in connection with the murder of the AIGP Felix Kaweesi. Perhaps among the suspects who has caused the most public uproar on torture involves the Mayor of Kamwenge Town Council, Geoffrey Byamukama,whose gruesome photos of deep wounds on both his legs and ankle in a Nakasero hospital bed last week.
Byamukama, who is a suspect in Kaweesi’ s murder had not been seen by his family for over a month until the moment of photos showing a man with seemingly septic wounds appeared in the media while he lay helplessly on a hospital bed .
According to a recent statement form police, Byamukama was picked up from the ministry of lands offices in Kampala last month following and investigation that was linking a telephone conversation that he had with a key suspect in the case.
However, upon his arrest, Ofwono said , the suspect protested being driven past Naguru police barracks where officers who had arrested him had initial said he was being taken for questioning. “The Police Officers in the vehiclce got into a scuffle with him and in the process, he injured himself,” he said.
Semujju however, said Byamukama is just one of the many cases of detained suspects who are severely tortured without being produced in the courts of law.
He said security agencies have made it a habit to disregard the 1995 constitution of Uganda and perpetuate impunity in the country.
Semujju, who is also a member of parliament for Kyadondo East constituency, said that the police force in Uganda has of recent not done well in terms of concealing torture cases like in the past where they always tried to cover up individual police officers because many of them want to hide under the institution of the police
“In this particular case, they couldn’t hide any more. They were just trying to find an explanation unlike in the case of the children who were recently detained. First over all, the first person who came out to explain admitted that this person was tortured by their own officers and that the reason they were torturing him was that he was resisting being driven to Nalufeenya having initially been told that he was being taken to Naguru police barracks. Now was it that the suspect was handling the driver or what to get all those injuries?” Semujju wondered .
He also revealed that an elder man of about 70 years selling maize at the roadside in Bweyogere had recently also been picked up by police for uttering words against the slain Kaweesi and that up to date, there has been no trace of him.
“He may have said something stupid, but that doesn’t mean that he is a suspect. I think police has behaved strangely in this case of Kaweesi’s murder. I don’t know whether there was a rally because they have arrested more than 200 people. You can only discover with those that they bring to court.The others will never be brought. Others they release them and those in bad shape first receive treatment. So they may arrest like 1,000 because they don’t know who killed Kawesi,” said Semujju before adding, “Someone once joked that Tottenham (English premiership soccer team) once didn’t know who to buy and hence bought everybody. Now these police don’t know who to arrest in this case so they are arresting everybody”.
Ofwono, however, said any incidences of torture by law enforcement officers should be condemned, both in law and practice and that there should be no effort to shield the responsible officers. He said that the responsible officers and already been arrested as investigations on the matter continue.
“Yes the officers may want to use the institutional cover but if those institutions like the police I know are robust, they should not allow that to happen,” he emphasised.
He urged the police to internally put administrative systems that ensure close supervision of the facility to root out cases of suspects being tortured in the course of arrest.
Ofwono, ruled out Nalufeenya being closed following calls from Semujju and Nanfuka suggesting that the facility be closed since it has turned into what they called ‘a torture chamber for suspects’ in the country.
He admitted that the arresting officers in the case of Byamukama exhibited non professionalism and failed to follow rules of procedure since they did not brief the suspect adequately on why the were proceeding to a different direction.
“I only condemn police on procedure here because if you have identified yourselves as coming from CPS and have clearly told a suspect that they are to be taken to Naguru, surely you should take that person to Naguru and if there are any changes inform the person where you have to take them elsewhere while following procedures,” Ofwono explained.
He also admitted that Byamukama’s wounds were as a result of beatings during transit to Nalunfeeya and that doctors at Nakasero hospital had done a grafting procedure to remove the dead skin to enable the place heal faster.
“If there were additional beatings in Nalufenya perhaps that will be found out. Infact it is Kayihura who while on his routine check at the facility discovered that Byamukama had been injured and immediately directed that he be taken to Nakasero hospital for specialized treatment,” he said.
Ofwono also called for a disciplinary action against a doctor at Nakasero hospital whom he only identified as Okumu for what he term as unprofessional conduct of taking Byamukama’s photos while working on him and sending to the media.
However, other panelists on the show argued that the doctor posted the photos with the full consent of the patient and that, that alone cannot constitute unprofessional misconduct since Byamukama has not complained about the matter.
They argued that doctor Okumu only did a noble cause of informing Byamukama’s family members of his whereabouts and hence has no crime he committed.
“In fact that doctor at Nakasero should be given an accolade instead of being condemned, for he exposed injustice,” Nafuka argued.
Wanyoto, an NRM women’s league mobiliser revealed that currently, there are over 40,000 police officers in the country but that these belong to different competencies categorized in anti-riot (defiance management), traffic, intelligence, women and welfare police among others.
She called on the police force and other security agencies to exhibit the highest level of professionalism in the execution of their duties if they are to gain public trust.
Wanyoto, however, also noted that there has been a lot of interference of intelligence work by the media and some members of the public.
“Where i sit back here in Uganda, everyone seems to be a security expert and very violent speaking and the media is very inciting bordering irresponsibility. There is a lot of interference in intelligence and security work. That’s what I think, I might be wrong. Someone needs to unpack that,” she said.
She said that she also of recent been reading media reports about the minister for security, Henry Tumukunde, doing regional coordination meetings but that the type of discourse and messaging out their speaks out a lot of discontent.
“If you go by finger pin pointing and finger accusations that is not going to help the security in Uganda. Let agencies take up their responsibilities. We want to see more of talking together and being on the same page of security agencies and it will make us safer and feel secure that someone is doing their work through the good coordination by these agencies,” she said.
Nanfuka said a suspect is presumed innocent until proved guilty and calledso security agencies should avoid indiscriminate arrests that lead to torture.
She said a society that encourages violence breads trouble for the future generation including themselves.
“Byamukama could have perpetuated violence himself not knowing it will one day catch up with him. People are presumed innocent until proved guilty and therefore we need to speak out against torture incidences.
Since independence, there has been documented evidence of security bodies operating tortured chambers Uganda where suspects were either killed or disappeared without trace. For example during Amin’s reign of terror in the 1970s, there was a notorious security arm named as the State Research Bureau that was believed to have had torture chambers in Nakasero, while in the Obote regime, there was also the famous Nile mansions, Basima house and Republic house. In Museveni’s regime, there have been reports of Safe houses and Nalufenya where victims are reported being tortured after arrest.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission the only body given opportunity to visit Nalunfeenya had recently said the facility is fit to detain suspects and that there were no incidences of torture that were reported at the time of their visit.
Below is a video recording by NBS TV on the alledged torture of Byamukama and the Police’s response