We are happy to be back home, say Rwandans released by Uganda

Foreign affairs minister Dr Vincent Biruta (left) and his health counterpart Dr Diane Gashumba speak to one of the Rwandans released earlier this week by Uganda, at the hospital on Thursday. The nine Rwandans are undergoing medical check-up after years on unlawful detention in the neighbouring country. Courtesy

Worn-out and relieved. The long journey after three years of incarceration had come to an end.

The nine men recently set free by Ugandan authorities arrived at the Gatuna border Wednesday night. They told reporters that they were so happy to be free and back home.

They were escorted to the Rwandan side of the border 20 minutes before midnight by a small group of Ugandan immigration officers led by Marcellino Bwesigye, acting commissioner for inspections and legal services at the Ugandan side of the border post, who claimed that they are “in good health and in good spirits.”

The veracity of Bwesigye’s claim, however, will soon be known as the men will all undergo medical check-up because of the ordeal they went through while illegally detained in Uganda.  

Shortly after the immigration formalities were concluded some of them spoke to the media, before boarding a bus to Kigali.

Rene Rutagungira, one of them, was kidnapped by Ugandan security operatives in early August 2017.

He was put in a CMI dungeon for three months before he was bundled up with strangers and taken to court.

All were charged with the same crime - “spying”.

They were later taken to Luzira Maximum Security Prison in Kampala. Rutagungira recalls that he spent four months there.

“When I started the process to sue them in civilian courts (for unlawful detention), they took me to a military barracks and kept me there, until they set me free yesterday [Tuesday].”

Rutagungira is more than happy to be home.

“Other Rwandans and I who were detained in this military barracks lived in horrible circumstances. I am happy to be back home. I was severely tortured. I am happy because I know that had my government not followed up, I wouldn’t be free,” he said.

Rutagungira narrated how he was kept in a dark place, in solitary, during most of his captivity.

His first move now that he is free, is a thorough medical checkup.

In mid-January 2018, Nelson Mugabe, was arrested and also charged with espionage.

He was put in a dark dungeon together with many other people.

“They tortured us in many ways. For me, from early January last year up to April, I couldn’t walk and would only be carried. This was because of the heavy beatings I had suffered.”

“I am not sure my health is well considering the torture and harsh life we have been going through including poor feeding and all the horrible living conditions. We had no hope for life. We didn’t get the normal humane treatment or medical care human beings should get.”

Before he was detained in Uganda, back home in Rwanda, his wife was heavy with child—their fifth.

“I don’t have information whether she gave birth or not,” Mugabe said.

Augustin Rutayisire, was also happy to be back home after the longtime spent suffering in Uganda.”

He was arrested on May 25, 2018.

While on a bus to Kampala, he met a fellow businessman [Emmanuel Rwamucyo who was also released Tuesday] and they connected as they had lots to share businesswise.

“He had a business idea that required we discuss in detail and therefore when we got to Mbarara, which was his final destination but I was to continue the journey, we agreed to both get out and find a place to sit and discuss things further before proceeding with my journey.”

Less than 15 minutes after they sat and talked, over a cup of tea, at a place called Global Petrol Station, in Mbarara, they were surrounded by strangers who told them that they were under arrest.

They were not immediately told why they were arrested.

The released Rwandans in the company of Ugandan officials walk through the no-man’s land at Gatuna border on Wednesday. / Emmanuel Kwizera

They were taken to Makenke Barracks in the environs of Mbarara town and jailed.

“Two days later we started being asked very many questions: what kind of people are we? Where are we from? What do we do? Others told us they know us very well as soldiers in Rwanda. We told them we are not what they say we are and are businessmen trying to earn a living and not into security affairs.”

“I think they were not satisfied. We spent nine days incarcerated until CMI vehicles arrived. We were handcuffed, faces covered and taken to a dungeon we believe was in Mbuya Military Barracks, in Kampala. After about a week there we again started being interrogated, and tortured.”

The fact that he travelled to Uganda frequently, he said, was used against him as his interrogators insisted that they had “their own truth.”

After three months in Mbuya, they were relocated to Makindye before they were then taken to the military court which eventually dropped charges and set the free on Tuesday.

Their release has been referred to as step in the journey to restore relations between the two countries.

Relations between the two countries have in recent years been strained mainly due to the arbitrary arrest of innocent Rwandans and the support accorded by Uganda to negative elements aimed at destabilising Rwanda.

jkaruhanga@newtimesrwanda.com

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