Uganda frees 9 Rwandans, urged to release all victims

One of the released Rwandans speaks to the media at Gatuna border post. (Emmanuel Kwizera)

The Government of Rwanda has welcomed the freeing of nine Rwandans by a Ugandan military court on Tuesday, saying that this is a good step but called for the release of all Rwandans illegally held in Uganda.

This follows reports that Uganda’s General Court Martial in Makindye, in Kampala, on Tuesday, set free the nine Rwandans who had been accused of espionage.

They were set free after Ugandan military prosecution told the court that “they had lost interest in the case”.

Those who were released are civilians but have been languishing in Ugandan military prisons for as long as three years.

Speaking to The New Times, Olivier Nduhungirehe, the State Minister for East African Community said that they had not yet received official communication from their counterparts, saying that they only learnt of the development through Ugandan media.

However, he said that Uganda should take the necessary steps to release all Rwandans who remain illegally detained in Uganda.

Sources say more than 200 Rwandan nationals remain in illegal detention in Uganda.

“We were told among those people are those who were detained for close to three years, including Rene Rutagungira,” Nduhungirehe said.
 
“This is the first step. But we need more of course because there are more than a hundred. There are hundreds of Rwandans who were illegally detained in Uganda for the past three years. We want all of them released.”

Businessman Rutagungira was in August 2017 abducted from a bar in Kampala by suspected agents of Uganda’s Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence and had remained in military detention despite being a civilian.

Family sources also confirmed that Emmanuel Rwamucyo, who was abducted from Mbarara in 2018 is among those who were set free.

Rwamucyo, who owned a restaurant in Western Uganda, was arrested with a colleague, Augustin Rutayisire.

Their charges kept changing from espionage to illegal possession of a firearm, which firearm they did not have during the time of their arrest.

Others confirmed by sources to have been freed include Augustin Rutayisire, who was arrested with Rwamucyo in 2018, and Bahati Mugenga, Etienne Nsanzabahizi, Charles Byaruhanga, and Claude Iyakaremye.

Many of the previous victims have gone missing for years or months before turning up at the Rwanda border nursing torture wounds, some in conditions so dire it resulted in death while others were left with permanent health damage.  

Nduhungirehe said: “We hope that the Ugandan authorities will follow through on the commitment of the president (Yoweri Museveni’s) on New Year’s Eve and that not only all Rwandans will be released but also the support to anti-Rwanda armed groups in eastern DRC will stop.”

“We hope this is the first step and we will wait for other actions from the Uganda authorities.”

Besides abduction of Rwandans by Ugandan security operatives, the Rwandan government has also accused Kampala of backing terror groups bent on harming Rwanda.

Early last year, Kigali issued a travel advisory against Rwandans going to Uganda saying it could not guarantee their safety there.

A UN report released in December 2018 confirmed that Uganda was a major source of recruits for Rwandan rebel outfits based in eastern DR Congo.

Two senior leaders of the FDLR militia arrested by Congolese authorities in 2018 and transferred to Kigali confessed in court that they were seized as they returned from a meeting with Ugandan and RNC (another Rwandan armed group) officials in Kampala.

Lawyer to seek damages

Meanwhile, addressing Ugandan media, Eron Kiiza, one of the advocates representing the Rwandans said he would be moving to seek damages against the Ugandan government on behalf of his clients.

He said that he will sue for damages due to the illegal detention of his clients, adding that prosecution had produced no single witness or any shred of evidence to justify their prolonged stay in jail.

In October last year, the lawyer, through his firm Kiiza and Mugisha Advocates, issued a press statement complaining about the continued illegal detention of their clients.

“Our clients are being prosecuted in military courts yet they are civilians and prosecution has stalled because of lack of evidence. The solution is to release them but they have now refused to even give them hearing dates,” he said then.

jkaruhanga@newtimesrwanda.com

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