Fiston Irakiza, 20, went to Uganda’s Kisoro District on October 28, 2018 using a two-day temporary pass as is common with border communities to cross freely and go about his business – vending alcoholic beverages in Kisoro border town.
In Kisoro, a town located in Western Uganda and near the Rwandan border, he ran into an impromptu security checkpoint.
He was asked to produce his papers and he presented his temporary pass and the National Identity card.
Despite the fact that the use of national identity cards as travel documents between Rwanda and Uganda – as well as Kenya – was officially recognized since January 2014, the young man was thrown in jail.
“They claimed that I was actually heading to Kampala which is so far away yet my jeton [temporary pass] was for two days, and took me to a police station. Later, I was taken to court and told my case was being in the country illegally and that I entered without proper papers.”
He spent a little over two weeks at the police station.
“The police officers asked me for UgShs30, 000 so they could set me free but I did not have the money. In court the officer who arrested me refuted the fact that he shredded my jeton as well as confiscated my ID. I lost the case.”
Mid last November, he was charged for illegal stay and immediately started an eight months and 10 days prison term.
At the Kisoro community prison where he was due to spend time, he was – along with 14 other Rwandans – transferred to another prison, in Kasese District, more than 100 miles from Kisoro.
“In Kasese they forced us to work every day in maize plantations from daybreak to sunset when we would be returned to prison, counted and then sent to sleep. Prisoners cultivate a vast area for more than two months and plant maize. When you got any wounds you suffered without care and you know we were in the fields barefooted and all.”
“We were beaten endlessly so as not to slow down. The young or weak or the old, every one suffered. If you were weak but could call home and they send money then you would be lucky.”
He left Kasese on July 20 when he was returned to Kisoro.
On July 23, he was deported to Rwanda. His ID was not returned.
On Friday, he spoke to reporters in Kigali while looking very pale.
He had a bad headache, he said. Much of his discomfort, it seemed, was due to ear pain and an ear infection or a more serious condition accompanied by the pus coming from his ears.
“I was beaten all the time; endless slaps in the ears, among other things” he pointed to his head, trying to explain the cause of the pus colored discharge.
The 14 other countrymen he went with to Kasese are still there, along with many others he found there.
Whose plantations were they working on? He does not know.
Irakiza was deported along with Joseph Nzabonimpa , 25, who swears never to ever go there again after the suffering he endured there in the past few months of detention there.
In March, Nzabonimpa whose business in Kisoro was cooking and selling samosas had his two-month travel pass confiscated before he was detained at a police station.
“I asked the police officer why he shredded my jeton yet it still had three days of validity and he said it was no longer a jeton so long as I was working on Ugandan territory. I told him I usually go and apply for a new one when it expires but he said I should come and say that at the police station,” Nzabonimpa said.
“Normally, they [Ugandan police officers] set you free when you give them money but because I had none, he took me and they later charged me and detained me for illegal entry.”
He spent five months in a prison in Kisoro until July 23 when he was deported after winning the case of entering Uganda without requisite travel documents.