After nine months of torture meted out by operatives of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) and the Internal Security Organisation (ISO), Venant Musoni Hakorimana, 35, was lucky to arrive in Kigali alive last Friday.
Hakorimana described how at some point during his extensive incarceration, he was forced to stand in a very cold corridor for three weeks with hands up.
He was also forced to spend nights outdoors where conditions were “unbearable.”
“Whenever I tried to stand, I crumbled down and a soldier would kick me up and forced me to stand again. So, they are mistreating people. Holding someone who is innocent for a period of one year and a half without appearing before a court of law is an abomination,” he said.
On several occasions, electric shock was used on him while he was restrained. He was beaten up every day, he said, removing his shoes and socks to show reporters scars where nails were removed.
In detention, he says, there were many other Rwandans. All were being tortured endlessly, he said.
“I remember a time when we numbered up to 40 Rwandans in a small room. Then they moved people to other rooms. Some were released in March but when I left others were still in and suffering so much. I remember a man called Nelson Mugabo who has been there for over a year and has been beaten badly. He cannot move his limbs. He has never appeared in a court. All they do is claim that he was sent by Rwanda and nothing else”.
Hakorimana’s wife and two children, he said, live in Spokane, a city in Spokane County in the state of Washington in the United States.
He was an employee of Save the Children in Uganda.
When his contract ended, he relocated to Ethiopia where he worked for the International Rescue Committee (IRC) – as an Applied Science and French teacher at a Turkish international school.
Mid last year, on return to Uganda, he was arrested in a rather bizarre manner and accused of things he could never have imagined doing, he said.
He recalls that everything happened early in the morning of July 12 when he was in his hotel on Entebbe road, in Kampala.
As he was readying to leave early that morning, three men banged on his door. When he opened they pounced and roughed him up and blindfolded him. The long ordeal had just begun.
“They confiscated my $11,000, Euros 5,700 and some Ugandan shillings and never returned it. The only thing they did not take was my clothes. But they also took my computer, passport, national ID and phones.”
“The CMI operatives tortured me immediately after arresting me. They accused me of being an RDF soldier, which I refuted, because I am not. They said I am spying for Rwanda. They carried on with numerous other accusations. They said I am an agent of [Gen Kale] Kayihura, the former Ugandan Inspector General of Police. They insisted on all these accusations, saying they have all evidence and details regarding my stay in Uganda and everything to pin me.”
“I continued to deny their accusations despite their threats to kill me. I told them the truth and they just didn’t want to hear it. So they took me to a CMI detention centre where I spent nine months.”
He was taken to court on March 25 which sentenced him to two years with an option of paying a fine of UgShs1 million for what they claimed was illegal entry and stay in the country.
“This was not true. I entered Uganda legally through the Busia border crossing from Kenya and my passport was still valid. They forged the charges and framed me,” Hakorimana said.
“I wrote a letter to the embassy (of Rwanda) but it was intercepted and never reached the embassy. This is why I took long to get out of Luzira prison. It was not until a good Samaritan bailed me out and paid for me on April 24 and they let me go. I then hurried to reach the embassy where I got facilitation to finally get here last Friday morning.”
Hakorimana told reporters that the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) has a hand in what is going on in Uganda and he is convinced that the government in Kampala is supporting the dissident group.
The RNC is a terror group linked to a spate of grenade attacks that hit Kigali claiming many lives around 2010.
The group is now part of the so-called P5, a merger of different armed groups that also include FDLR militia, FDU-Inkingi, among others, who are plotting to violently overthrow the Kigali government.
“I heard that they have [military] training camps. I believe the Rwanda National Congress is active in Uganda and most likely they [CMI] think I or others who have been arrested and gone through the same ordeal are there to spy on them,” said Hakorimana.
“I saw another group of Rwandans in the same safe house but they were treated differently. Clearly, unlike me and others, they were there for protection. They were not tortured or harassed and I gathered that they were RNC recruits. The only thing we had in common was staying in the same safe house and sharing food.”
The father of two has a message to the government in Kampala: Torture is not only inhuman but uncalled for in this era and Kampala, he pleaded, should stop “this cruel treatment of human beings”.
“The Ugandan government should respect the law. They should know that these people in CMI detentions are human beings. They should not torture and mistreat people like they are doing,” Hakorimana told reporters in Kigali on Tuesday.
“There surely must be alternative ways of finding out the truth, not by torturing someone to the extent that he collapses and forgets his name.”