Hundreds of family members and friends around Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono are nursing the pain and anxiety arising from the disappearance of their loved ones and friends in the past couple of weeks, which some attribute to politics.
An investigation by The Sunrise, supported by different reports from different human rights organisations indicate that that majority of the victims of high-jacking are young people and are supporters of the main opposition party the National Unity Platform (NUP).
Human rights activists estimate the number of those who have been high-jacked to be in hundreds across Kampala, Mukono, Wakiso and Buikwe.
Eye witnesses in Mukono, who spoke to The Sunrise on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted, say the young men were randomly picked by plain-clothed men with guns, in areas considered to be opposition strongholds, bundled into waiting Drone vans that had no number plates and taken to unknown locations.
What bothers many is the fact that most of those that are picked in such clandestine fashion, have not been produced in courts of law.
Some of the victims of this apparent criminality are pinning the ruling party candidates of masterminding the high-jacking of the young men, with the intention of intimidating opposition supporters in those areas.
National Unity Platform (NUP) Mukono North Parliamentary flag bearer, Abdallah Kiwanuka Kayongo alias Mulima Mayuni told The Sunrise that all the abductions within Mukono district are spearheaded by his political opponent and State Minister for Water Ronald Kibuule who he says uses his security detail to abduct and torture people who are against the NRM political ideology within the district.
“It has been for a long time known that Minister Kibuule uses security officers like captain Muganza and those on his security detail to abduct and torture youths and people that don’t support him, using his home at Mbalala as torture cells,” he said.
Kiwanuka notes that the initial abductions were only aimed at torture beatings and the victims would be dumped. He adds however, over the past three weeks, the victims have gone missing completely, something that has deepened anxiety among the relatives of those abducted.
“Initially they would dump them at various police stations after being tortured. These police stations include Nagalama, Mukono and Jinja Road police stations but many were in very poor health. As per now they took another course,” he said.
Kiwanuka further narrates: “About two weeks ago, they rounded off my home and took my brother Male Musa. They went to other villages including Kabembe, they picked seven (people), Kisowera took four people including Julius Kiberu, a close friend to the area chairperson who also narrowly escaped with a bullet on his shoulder,” he added.
Kiwanuka further notes that out of those that were abducted about three weeks ago, only one has returned but not after he was badly beaten.
“We only recovered one known as Yuya Fred Kamya. He was dumped in one of the forests in Kakiri after he was beaten to near death. This brings us to suspect that many of these abducted youths were beaten and many might have lost lives. So far we are missing 12 people who were abducted about three weeks ago,” he said.
The increasing frequency of reports of similar disappearances, have deepened especially following the death of some of those that had previously been reported missing.
The Sunrise sought to know whether relatives of the victims tried legal means of having their people arraigned before courts and charged, but Kiwanuka responded that: “We tried going to area police stations like Nagalama and Mukono but they declined to record statements or make references. I reported (the matter) to the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Fred Bamwine. But he also gave no clear reason as to why people are being abducted. All he could offer were promises to investigate the matter.”
Kiwanuka further noted that as a lawyer, his only option is to file an Hebeas Corpus, or an application in court that compels the government to produce an individual dead of alive.
“I assure you there is no way Kibuule can distance himself from this because it’s him that started this inhumane vice. However, my only optional legal step at hand is to petition court to order for the immediate release of our colleagues whether dead or alive because none of them has ever been brought to court yet their families are ever worried,” he said.
Abbey Bagenda Bitwalo, an LC1 chairperson of Kisowera village, Nama Sub county Mukono district notes that he is one of those that narrowly escaped being abducted.
Bagenda says he is now in hiding after his would be abductors narrowly missed him and tried to pursue him with bullets.
Bagenda recalls that on December 21, plain-clothed individuals with guns attempted to abduct him but he managed to escape with a rubber bullet shot on his shoulder. He however notes that one of his close colleagues and other residents of his village were abducted and for close to three weeks now, their whereabouts are unknown.
“Because the people that intended to arrest me had no clear identity of which security agency they were working for, I put up a fight because I knew, as a leader it’s not the way they would arrest me and by God’s grace I survived them although with a bullet on my shoulder and a heartache for my friend they took,” he said.
Asked what could be the motive of these abductions, Bagenda suspects those with connections with security agencies want to inflict fear among the population not to vote for opposition. “My understanding is that they intend to arrest all strong opposition cadres so that they instill fear in other people as well as leaving them with no voice.”
Bagenda also pins minister Kibuule whom he says is the mastermind of most of the abductions in Mukono district.
“I was told by eye witnesses that after my escape, as they tried to force others into those drones, campaign posters of minister Kibuule fell down and the lady who was inside hurriedly picked them in panic, an indicator that he is the mastermind of these criminal gangs and many victims can testify against him,” he said.
“It’s unfortunate we have no one to run to because even the area police officers don’t want to attend to the cases. Mpoma army barracks is within my village but even the army declined to help yet in the recent past even if it would be a thief firing only one bullet, soldiers would come to our rescue in just two minutes yet for my case over 10 bullets were fired with one injuring my shoulder but they didn’t make any response,” he added.
He adds that even when he informed the army leadership, they never acted yet abductors came back for three conceptive days.
“The drones (Matatu type of vehicles) came back three conceptive days after I informed the security of my abduction, but they still never acted yet these cars are known. This suggests that the abduction orders could be coming from above.” said Bagenda.
He notes that his village-mates no longer feel safe especially the young people most of whom are mistaken for opposition supporters and are spotted condemned.
“We have individual spies within the village that are given petty coins to track our movements but I want to appeal to my people to remain vigilant and vote wisely,” he said.
Bagenda however notes that even inquiring about whereabouts of their colleagues has become a risk factor for the relatives.
“We no longer have authority to ask about our people because all sectors are rotten. When you ask police they instead arrest the one who wants to make a simple inquiry,” he said.
On how the family members are enduring the psychological and financial difficulties, Bagenda who said he is in a hideout and only uses WhatsApp to communicate, simply offered prayers.
“I’m alive by the grace of God. Even though my family may be suffering, I am better than those whose relatives are being tortured from unknown locations. Of course we also try to look after their families but we also can’t look after them as their fathers because there are things they won’t tell you given the fact that they know your just a helper,” he said.
“I therefore appeal to those concerned to give us our colleagues whether dead or alive other than keeping us in suspense and worry,” he added.
The Sunrise has learned that the matter has attracted the attention of a number of human rights defenders in Uganda as well as foreign missions. For example, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) led by Dr. Livingstone Sewanyana, who is also a United Nations Special Rappoteur for Human Rights, is investigating the matter.
FHRI officials however declined to give details of their investigations saying they will soon release a report. Ssewannyana working with other human rights lawyers also noted that the recent killing of Uganda Bombers former team leader Zebra Ssenyange, by security officers, has strengthened their case in the International Criminal Court against President Yoweri Museveni whom they say has committed crimes against humanity.
Joel Ssenyonyi, the National Unity Platform Spokesperson also notes that by the end of next week, they will have finalized a report that shows all their colleagues and supporters that have been abducted and still missing across the country.
“Well we’re still gathering all relevant information that will enable us come to conclusion of how many of our people have been abducted so far across the country and where they could be kept, by the end of the week we shall be releasing the list and names of those abducted and the way forward on having them released,” he said.
“We continue to appeal to the State and all its individual cowards to act inhumane and produce our people because all Ugandans have a constitutional right to support whoever they wish,” he added.
However, efforts by The Sunrise to get Minister Kibuule’s side of the story went futile as his Personal Assistant declined to neither give a comment nor hand us to Minister Kibuule