Mityana Municipality Member of Parliament (MP) Francis Zaake Butebi has come out to share his ordeal of the his April arrest and alleged torture by members of the security forces in Uganda. The account of events, transcribed by his lawyer, reveals what led to his eventual hospitalisation from his own perspective. Read on;
I spent the whole day of Sunday 19th April, 2020 at my home in Mityana Municipality, Mityana District. I had the previous day bought items including rice and sugar with an intention of helping some very needy [people] in my constituency. This was after many of them kept coming to my home to ask for help. I could not stand starving mothers and their children camping outside my gate every day for help. I had to find a way of helping them without compromising public health in these coronavirus times.
I was very mindful of the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Health regarding distribution of food items. That is why I worked with two of my household workers to pack these items in bags. We then gave them to boda boda riders who delivered them from house to house within my neighborhood in Mityana Municipality. For the record, I never stepped out of my compound on that day to give out the items or do anything else! At no point did people gather to receive these items. The boda boda riders sent me a few pictures which I posted on my social media pages.
It was coming to 7:00pm when several vehicles full of uniformed and non-uniformed police officers, UPDF soldiers and other security operatives came to my home. They forced themselves into my compound by jumping over my fence. I was taking a shower at the time and they broke into my house and headed straight to my bedroom door which they banged a few times. The RPC ordered that I come out of the bedroom. He responded that they could even take me naked when I told him I was putting on clothes. I dressed up hastily, but they went ahead and broke my bedroom door and entered.
Mr. Bob Kagarura, the Wamala Regional Police Commander (RPC) held me by my trousers and dragged me out of my bedroom. I asked why they were acting violently when I had not resisted arrest. They could hear none of that- they quickly placed me on handcuffs. They rummaged through my house and turned everything upside down. They took my money which was in my bedroom – a total sum of 15,000,000/= (Uganda Shillings Fifteen Million). They did not present any search warrant and when I asked about it, the RPC silenced me, reminding me how he is a PhD holder!
I asked if he had an arrest warrant issued through the Speaker of Parliament, but yet again he said that wasn’t necessary! I was told that even after driving me away, they returned and caused more mayhem, leaving the house a complete mess. I was led into a double cabin police truck. They sat me between two officers including Mr. Kagarura and another one. The Mityana District Police Commander – Mwine Alex, sat at the front. The moment I entered the vehicle away from the cameras, the beatings started!
They started slapping me and telling me that since I was now in their hands, I was going to face it very rough. I did not fully appreciate this initially until later on. At Mityana Police Station, I was dragged out of the vehicle and taken into the DPC’s office where I was brutally kicked and punched by uniformed and non – uniformed police and military officers. This first round of torture was presided over and superintended by the said Mityana DPC Alex Mwine and Wamala RPC Kagarura Bob, both of whom had participated in my arrest.
RPC Kagarura punched me very hard in the face while DPC Mwine kicked me all over the body. I kept asking why I was being treated like a chicken thief but anything I said attracted more beating. In the meantime, they were insulting me, asking me how a useless person like me can even imagine fighting President Museveni. They kept saying that I was not even worthy to be a class monitor later on a Member of Parliament. They told me I should be praising Museveni for making it possible for a person like me to be a leader!
Nothing was mentioned about distributing food outside COVID-19 regulations. They bundled me into a police cell where I found more than 20 suspects including at least one woman! I was going through much pain! The cell was a bit dark and when I heard this woman speak, I was surprised that a woman was being held in a cell with men. She started telling me her unpleasant ordeal as did the other people in the cell. Some of these people had been in the cell for up to three weeks.
Many had been arrested for allegedly being found walking during curfew hours. Several of them talked of how they are HIV positive and police had denied them access to ARVs. They were being fed on maize only. About 20 minutes later, they ordered me to come out of the cell. I could hear that vehicles had been started on the outside. As I rose up to get out, the people in the cell started cheering me and chanting – “Tulinaawe”, “People Power” etc.
The security operatives responded by firing teargas into the tiny room, with nowhere to turn! In the stampede that followed, with people chocking on teargas, I was violently pulled out of the cell and dragged to a waiting double cabin police truck! About three other trucks were parked right in front of the police station. They lifted me and bundled me onto the back of the double cabin truck. I heard very vividly Kagarura giving an instruction in the Runyankore language – “make sure he does not see”. It was at that point that they poured a substance in my eyes that gave me excruciating pain.
I thought it was pepper spray and I would soon be able to see – but up to now, I can hardly open my eyes without feeling so much pain. All this while, I was on handcuffs. They tied my hand-cuffed arms with ropes, as well as my legs and then pushed me under the open-air back seats of the truck. They then fastened both ends of the ropes onto the seats, and suspended my body in that small space between the seats and the floor in such a way that my body was dangling below the seats but without touching the floor.
I suspect there were about four soldiers occupying the seats. They went cursing me as I groaned in pain. I was shirtless – my shirt had been violently removed and torn, and used to tie me also. They then drove me at a very high speed. Whenever we hit speed bumps, my body would swing and hit the sides of the metallic surroundings. Whenever we hit a pothole, I would jump slightly in the air and hit my back against the metallic floor. I have never felt so much pain. The hate in their words was the most astounding thing for me. They kept taunting me and pocking me with sticks while they laughed. They drove me for about two hours until we reached a gate which the guards quickly opened.
One of the people at the gate asked in Runyankore- “Who is that?” And one of the soldiers responded “It is this dog Zaake.” I thought the man would be sympathetic and I cried out to him for help, saying I have not done anything. His response, in Runyankole was short- you are now farting but you will soon defecate!
They drove me into a compound and the soldiers unfastened me from the truck. At this point, they dragged me into the basement of a building. The echoes gave me the impression that it was a big building. At this point I could not stand on my feet and my arms and legs felt numb, but they kept ordering me to walk while they beat me with sticks. I was literally dragged down the stairs into the basement. I thought we had gotten to a police station. I thought my nightmare had ended, but I was wrong.
In the basement, while still handcuffed, the torture started afresh. They forced me to lie down and gave me a number of strokes I could not even count. To date, my buttocks bear marks and still hurt. Surprisingly, at no point was it mentioned that I was being punished for distributing food against COVID-19 regulations. The men who seemed to relish every moment of this ordeal kept asking me who I think I am to oppose Museveni. They said nasty things about Hon. Kyagulanyi Ssentamu and referred to him as a dog as well. As they beat me, they spoke Runyankore language 90% of the time and in a mocking way spoke Luganda a few times.
Although I don’t speak Runyankore, I understand most things when I listen to it. For example, the word ‘mazi g’omuganda’ (shitty Muganda) was repeated many times, both in reference to me and in reference to Hon. Kyagulanyi! They told me that we are always there lying to ourselves that a Muganda can lead Uganda, and told me that this country has its owners. This was my fourth time being tortured from the time I joined Parliament, but I had never heard so much hate, so much bitterness and so much tribalism!
At some point, one of them came and squeezed my testicles so hard and told me as I groaned in pain, “Luli twakulaba nga olopela Kabaka nti tutulugunya n’okutta abaganda. Kati yita Kabaka wo akuyambe” (We saw you last time reporting to Kabaka that we torture and kill Baganda. Now call your Kabaka to help you). It will be recalled that a few weeks earlier I had made a public appeal to the Katikiro of Buganda to use his position and intervene so that the killings of people by police especially in Buganda end. This was after the murder of Dan Kyeyune and Ritah Nabukenya by security operatives. They told me that my father had become rich under their rule. What right do I have to oppose Museveni who they referred to as Muzeyi? It was a horrific night. I remember crying out that I did not decide to become a Muganda but was born like that!
As if it was a crime to belong to any tribe! But at that time I was simply pleading for my life. In a very mocking way, they kept asking me why I was crying like a child yet in public I pretend to be courageous and bold. One of them told me that it was time for me to swear and make a promise. They said that this was just ‘jalibu’ – a teaser. He told me clearly that if I continued to challenge Museveni, they were going to kill me! He told me that if you die, you will die for your father and your mother- still in Runyankore. Remember I was still on handcuffs and my eyes were paining like hell.
So, one guy stepped on my head with what felt like military boots and told me to repeat after him. When he started speaking, I tried to hesitate but that earned me strokes on my chest and my back! They had a stick with sharp objects that felt like barbed wire. The marks are visible on my chest 16 days later! He asked me to repeat these words- “Nze Zaake, okuva leelo, ndayira nti silidamu kuwakanya owekitiibwa Pulezidenti Museveni, Mukyala we owekitiibwa Maama Janet Museveni, ne mutabaani waabwe ela pulezidenti wa Uganda adako owekitiibwa ennyo Muhoozi Keinerugaba. (I Zaake, swear that from today, I will never again oppose His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni, his wife Honorable Maama Janet Museveni and his son the Most Honorable Muhoozi Keinerugaba, Uganda’s next president!”)
He asked me, “Will I hear you ever again saying, that dog Bobi Wine is your next president?” and gave me the last lash. Let me clarify that at a personal level I hate and despise tribalism in all its forms. At an institutional level, the People Power Movement has condemned and decisively dealt with any manifestation of tribalism and sectarianism within our ranks. I was therefore very surprised that some of the people we pay to protect us chose to view me not as a Ugandan, but as a troublesome Muganda who deserved to be punished for that!
A man said to me, “We can do whatever we want to you or even kill you from here. No one will demonstrate for you because they are under lockdown. It is only us who are running the show.” After a short while, they lifted me and took me into what felt like a cell and left. I was groaning in pain. As they left me there, someone approached me and told me in Luganda, “Honorable Zaake don’t cry, this is what we go through every day. We know you will soon be out of here, but help us also- let them at least take us to court.”
More people gathered around me and it was them who told me we were at Mbuya, CMI headquarters. After another short spell, I was yet again removed from the cell and carried into the back of a waiting car. Whereas on the journey from Mityana I was tied facing up, this time round my handcuffs were removed and placed on my arms from the back- kandooya style. They again tied me onto the metals on the back of the truck, except that this time my face was facing down and my arms behind. The pain was incredible! The journey took very few minutes and I was dumped in a place which later turned out to be the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) – Kireka.
Here, the officers were equally violent. The first person I interacted with slapped me and told me to stop groaning and making noise for them. They asked me to stop pretending that I could not walk. At some point, they lifted me while on handcuffs, and threw me down hard on the cemented floor. They thereafter boxed and kicked me severely in the lower back, all the while insulting and asking me why I don’t leave politics. At this time, I could no longer say anything. I had given up. I thought I was going to die. They poured a very cold, itchy substance on me – I don’t know what it was. With all the wounds I had all over my body, the pain was very agonizing. I was then left there- on the cold cement for several hours. I was certainly not in a cell – but whenever I turned, I felt that I was under a table. It was in the morning that I was taken into a cell where I mixed with other people, some of whom have spent many months at this torture facility. For the days I spent there, people told me unbelievable stories. I spent about four days at Kireka.
I was denied access to a personal doctor, until later when one of their doctors came and forcefully subjected me to treatment despite objecting. Certainly, I could not trust their doctors at that point! Lawyers were also denied access to me. My wife and other family members were blocked from seeing me. My mouth was swollen and I could hardly eat the posho and beans which is served to inmates once a day! Instead, I only survived on one cup of porridge a day- which I had to wait to take until it became cold! The torture at Kireka was immense. Every after a few hours – whether during the day or at night, I would be dragged out of the cell for ‘interrogation’ and each of those times I would be kicked and slapped.
There was no interrogation about anything. It was only about torture, insults, threats and more torture. The only thing they told me was to leave politics alone and to denounce Bobi Wine! This is what happens at the Kireka specialized torture chamber – the inmates there will tell you that there is a time-table for each one of them to be taken for ‘interrogation’. Everyone knows what interrogation means and many of them return cursing, crying or bleeding after a session. It was only Hon. Paul Mwiru who was eventually allowed to see me. They came to the cell and told me someone wanted to see me. I asked who it was and they told me. This was on the third day.
I was lifted out of the cell and taken to a vehicle – and forced to sit upright, this time inside a car. The pain was unbearable. I was in the hands of one Twesigye Hamdani. The distance from the torture chamber to their office is very short – about five minutes’ drive. Twesigye told me that if I thought this was a simple matter, President Yoweri Museveni wanted to speak with me on phone. The person on the other side barked at me through the phone and asked what I wanted with politics. He told me to go and look after my father’s businesses! I kept quiet. The call did not last long- perhaps one minute or so. Twesigye took back the phone and said, “Thank you, Your Excellency.”
With all the pain I was going through, I could not tell for sure if it was Museveni speaking or if this was one of their torture techniques! At the office, I was placed on a bench where I lay. Upon setting eyes on me, Hon. Mwiru couldn’t believe his eyes. I remember him saying, “No way, no way- is this a Member of Parliament?” Because I looked so frail and dehydrated, he suspected that my sugar levels were so low and quickly went and got me splash juice which felt like the best drink I’ve ever had all my life. I started narrating my ordeal to Hon. Mwiru and requested him to inform Hon. Kyagulanyi and other leaders about my situation. I remember him telling those people, “This man is going to die from here. Take him to hospital.”
As soon as he left, these people subjected me yet again to unspeakable brutality. Twesigye rudely asked me why I told Hon. Mwiru what they had done to me! I was so frightened. He told me that I was going to face it rough. He is the man who had told me that while at Kireka, I would have six hours of rest and thirty minutes of ‘interrogation’ (torture) and mockingly said, “Honorable, isn’t that a fair deal?” He then told me, “You must make a statement now!” I objected saying I needed my lawyer or Hon. Mwiru to be present. He then said, “You will make it by force” and started scribbling something on a paper. He then asked, “Are you now ready to sign?” To which I objected still. After pushing me and using a stick to poke me, he called some people who lifted me and took me back to the cell.
Let me clarify, that I actually did not know that they were listening to everything I said to Hon. Mwiru since I could not see and they kept quiet while I narrated my ordeal to him. On the fourth day, I was driven straight to the Iran – Uganda Hospital in Naguru below the Police Headquarters. The first time my wife came to see me, they first switched off the lights because of the condition I was in. The doctors who attended to me were professional – at one time demanding that I be given some privacy. Twesigye Hamdani was commanding the operation at the hospital, assisted by one Oketcho.
Twesigye refused and said that security must remain in my room at all times including those times when my wife requested for privacy in order to bathe me. My pleas to be allowed access to an independent medical facility fell on deaf ears. Sometimes, especially at night, I would be left with junior officers. It was one of them who told me that some of the operatives who were guarding me at the hospital and denying my colleagues access to me belong to SFC. At one point, my wife decided to speak to Mr. Twesigye in Runyankore. She knows the language, having studied in Rukungiri district.
He told her that he was very glad she is one of their own. He told her all sorts of things including telling her that he could take her to President Museveni so that she is given money to live a good life and leave this Muganda man alone. I challenge him to come out and deny this account. On the 8th day after my initial arrest, I was driven to court in Mityana in severe pain even when my wife had informed me that lawyers had obtained an order for my unconditional release in Nakawa.
These people will torture you away from the cameras, but will always want you to appear normal when they bring you to the public. This is why they injected me with what I suspect were steroids before I left Kireka in order to reduce my swellings on the face and entire body. That is why my wife and the few MPs who were allowed to see me at the hospital were always searched thoroughly so that they don’t access me with any gadgets including phones so as not to take any picture of me in that state! Therefore on the day I was being taken to Mityana, they tried to force me to sit upright in a police double cabin truck. I couldn’t. My back was in so much pain. They assaulted me- forcing me into the car. It took the intervention of Hon. Segona who was present, for them to bring an ambulance- Reg. No. UP 5713.
Hon. Segona wondered what they must have done to me in private, if they could assault me in his presence. While on the way in an ambulance, I heard my wife bitterly complaining that she was being touched inappropriately by a male officer called Dan. The male officer barked at her, rudely silencing her! Some of these people are animals in human skin! What transpired at court and after is largely public knowledge; I need not repeat it here. But worth pointing out is the fact that on arrival at Mityana, the ambulance driver, whose name we are yet to get, rushed to me and violently pulled off one of the cannula lines off my arm, and poured the medicine on the outside, amidst protestations from my wife and a nurse.
He said, “What can you do? There are no cameras!”I should point out that it was extremely disgusting to hear that police claimed I was not given police bond on that day, because I refused to sign bond papers. I doubt Mr. Martin Okoth Ochola has any idea what happens within the institution he purports to lead. I am grateful to all Ugandans home and abroad for standing by me in this very difficult time.I am very grateful to Hon. Kyagulanyi and his wife who despite being blocked from reaching me several times, kept on phone with my wife until I got some freedom. I also appreciate fellow Members of Parliament including Hon. Medard Segona, Hon. Paul Mwiru, Hon. Asuman Basalirwa, Hon. David Kalwanga and others who kept coming to see me and help in every way. Let me also appreciate the doctors both at Iran-Uganda hospital as well as Lubaga hospital for giving me the much needed healthcare. Finally, I am grateful to all lawyers including Eron Kiiza, Abdalla Kiwanuka and Saasi Marvin for using the courts to demand for my freedom.
Mr. Kamya Ibrahim and other lawyers in Mityana also did an incredible job. I have already instructed my lawyers to prosecute the Head of CMI since I didn’t identify anybody who tortured me there, RPC Kagarura Bob, DPC Mwine Alex, Elly Womanya (the Commandant SIU Kireka), Mr. Twesigye Hamdani, and the ambulance driver whose name we are trying to get. We are also trying to investigate who else participated in or superintended over my torture. I know that with God by my side, I shall soon be in better health. As far as the struggle is concerned, I will begin from where I stopped. We shall overcome.
Hon. Francis Zaake Butebi – Mityana Municipality MP