The nine Rwandans released recently by Uganda are recuperating at a hospital in Kigali.
However, they carry appalling tales of illegal and inhumane treatment by Ugandan intelligence operatives.
Among the horrific experiences are torture by electrocution and water boarding.
Water boarding is a form of torture in which water is poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the person to experience drowning.
Before his ordeal, Nelson Mugabo, a resident of Nyagatare District, always did business in Kampala and other parts of Uganda.
Like most Rwandans who have suffered the same fate in Uganda, he was arrested in a weird manner on January 18, 2018.
At the time, he was scheduled to leave Arua town, in north western Uganda, on the night bus and was in his room taking a nap. Suddenly, two muscular masked men wearing hand gloves pounced. They carried guns he had never seen before.
“I was scared they wanted to kill me; another one, the third whom they called Dennis, entered wielding a hoe handle which he started beating me with. He hit my arms, joints and body. I cried out,” Mugabo said.
“My nails were bleeding. They then tied my arms from behind and dragged me, like a corpse, on the road. I was naked,” he added.
Mugabo’s captors then put a bag over his head, threw him into a vehicle and drove off in the night.
Hours later, he overheard one of them suggest that once they got to River Nile, they should stop, dump him and he would flow back home [Rwanda] faster.
“My heart sunk. I knew this meant death. I would not survive in the River Nile,” he said.
About an hour later, the vehicle made a turn off the tarmac road and stopped at an unknown location. They roughly pulled him out. Thinking he was going to be executed, Mugabo begged for a few minutes to pray before he was killed. They laughed. Then one picked a car jack and started pounding his back. They placed a dirty cloth on the back of his head and then hit him for close to 30 minutes. He passed out.
Days later, he regained consciousness and found himself in an underground dungeon.
“When I managed to push off the cloth covering my eyes and see my surroundings, I noticed a young man [gestures to one of his colleagues in the hospital ward] in the room trying to wriggle closer to me. When he got close, he asked me if I was Rwandan too. Then he told me how Rwandans were being killed. I told him we should pray and wait for our turn.”
He was not killed. But he was interrogated – the security operatives mostly wanted to know which Rwandan leaders had sent him to Uganda.
He was tied and beaten up but refused to forcefully declare that he was a Rwandan spy “because I never was one.”
Mugabo says he passed out several times during captivity.
Towards end-March last year, he said, “They took me to what they call ‘the beach’.”
“They put a blanket on my nose and entire face and kept pouring water on me for more than an hour,”
“This water comes with so much force that you take it in through the nose and mouth and your stomach fills up. They get you up, press your stomach hard and once you vomit it out they start again. They want you to admit to everything they ask.”
With little breakthrough, Mugabo was again thrown into a dark dungeon. He spent the rest of the year there. Due to the torture, he was unable to walk for several months.
“Even today, I still have a problem because when I walk for a while, I become dizzy and my back hurts a lot.”
When Mugabo was first detained, he had over $10,000 which was confiscated along with other accessories including cell phones.
“As we were being released I asked a senior officer, I think he was a major or a captain, about my belongings and he just told us that ‘we know some of our operatives are thieves; implying that “if the money was not recorded anywhere, I should forget about it.’”
Mugabo is now home and safe, but he constantly worries about the fate of six others who lost their minds due to extreme torture.
They eventually became mentally ill and were relocated. One is called Emmanuel Rukundo, from Kirehe District. He suffered the worst forms of torture and eventually lost it. He was taken to Butabika Mental Health hospital where he was given an injection, which we suspect led to his paralysis.”
Then there is another young man from Rubavu District called Jackson Karangwa. I last saw him end last month in another group they said they were taking away but I don’t know if he got home safe. Another is Emmanuel Mageza who I heard comes from a place near FAWE [girls school] in Kigali. He is probably in Butabika mental hospital.”
Then there is one called Uwitonze from Ngoma District who also lost his mind. His whereabouts are still unknown.
“The other is Serugendo who I think is from Burera District. He also broke down due to torture and lost his mind.”
Another, Erick Tumusifu, was locked up in a filthy prison toilet and he became very violent.
Late at night, Mugabo recalls, “We heard gunshots.” The next day, in the evening, Tumusifu’s bullet-riddled body was returned to the same prison, in Mbuya.
Mugabo said: “His buttocks, legs and arms had bullet wounds. He couldn’t walk and would sleep on the floor while arms were tied from the back. He too was in the group that was taken out of the prison end last month, but we don’t know where they were taken.”
Gilbert Urayeneza, 28, was kidnapped by Ugandan soldiers in Mbarara.
“They said we were [Rwandan] soldiers and they kidnapped us. They rolled us on the tarmac road while our arms were tied from the rear. They blindfolded us and that was the last time we saw sunlight for a while,”
I don’t know how the barracks they took us to looks like. All I recall are their footsteps when they came to beat us,” Urayeneza said.
“They imprisoned us in what seemed to be a huge hole. They would beat us up asking us to reveal where we hide our guns.”
Urayeneza says he now finds it so difficult to pass urine, among other complications. He often feels dizzy too.
Before he and others were taken to CMI dungeons in Mbuya, in Kampala, they were kept in a wet cold pit.
In Mbuya, the blindfolds remained in place. The beatings were worse and more frequent.
“We didn’t know when it was day or night. Some were tied up and suspended in the air.”
Claude Iyakaremye lived and worked in Kampala, with his wife and children.
Security operatives pounced on him one evening as he went to join a friend at a bus park in Kampala.
As he tried to shout for help, more men arrived and forced him into a van, sat on his stomach, pounded him with fists before speeding off.
He had UgShs3.5 million which was taken along with his phones. He was blindfolded and thrown into a dark cell. He would later learn that he too was in Mbuya military barracks.
The security operatives took turn to beat him up.
“After a while, I would pass out. They would pour cold water on me and after I regained consciousness, they then started using a baton to beat my joints; which are still damaged up to now,” Iyakaremye said.
Because of the excessive waterboarding, his hearing is now impaired, Iyakaremye says.
Rene Rutagungira had lived in Uganda since 2005.
He was among the first Rwandans to be kidnapped by CMI operatives in Kampala, in 2017.
Beatings, waterboarding and electrocutions, were the order of the day, he said.
Almost three months later, he was taken to a military police barracks in Makindye.
“I was put in a soundproof room where they used all sorts of torture. They cover your face while you are restrained and the torture sessions are conducted.”
Dr. Ernest Nahayo, one of the doctors who have examined the men at Rwanda Military Hospital in Kigali, told reporters that they are closely monitoring their health.
They are suffering from the effects of torture, poor feeding, isolation and being put in darkrooms for long periods.
“What we can detect now are signs of carefully inflicted physical torture as well as trauma,” Dr Nahayo said.
Clinical psychologists and other specialists, he said, are also helping the men with their journey to recovery.Follow https://twitter.com/KarhangaJames