By John Semakula & John Masaba
A former prisoner, who was on death row, has taken Attorney General Peter Nyombi, commissioner of Prisons Dr. Johnson Byabashaija and internal affairs minister Gen. Aronda Nyakairima to court over torture and murder of inmates.
Yahaya Lukwago, 42, who was released from jail in June after serving 14 years, says he was beaten to near death and witnessed prison warders torture two inmates to death.
Through his lawyer, Ladislaus Rwakafuzi, Lukwago has asked court that an inquiry be made into the death of the two inmates at Kirinya Prison in Jinja district.
He wants the prison warders who perpetuated the torture to be brought to book. Lukwago is also seeking compensation for the permanent injuries he suffered as a result of the torture.
Lukwago told Saturday Vision that while in prison, he was beaten with batons made out of elephant tusks, which affected his nerves. He now walks with a limp and needs support to move up and down stairs.
He explained that since President Yoweri Museveni signed the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act 2012 into law, prison warders who breached it should be held accountable.
In Lukwago’s affidavit, he says the deaths of inmates constitute extrajudicial killings by prison authorities and, as such, the respondents are liable for the torturous acts committed by the prison warders. The case number is 72/2014.
Rwakafuzi said he was representing Lukwago because he believed inmates in detention should never be subjected to torture.
Lukwago was arrested in 2000 over aggravated robbery and convicted in 2003. He was sentenced to death and sent to Luzira. He and his accomplices later appealed against the sentence and on May 29, 2008, his accomplices were acquitted.
Inmates pour impounded waragi (local spirit)
He spent 12 years in prison, before his case was reviewed and his sentence reduced to two-and-a-half years.
The review of Lukwago’s case followed the 2009 famous Supreme Court ruling on the Constitutional Court petition filed by Susan Kigula and 417 convicts on death row in which they challenged the constitutionality of the death sentence.
The Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty was no longer mandatory, but it did not stop courts from imposing it. After the ruling, the High Court revisited many of the sentences of convicts in the condemned section, including that of Lukwago. He was released in June.
Lukwago said he found his four wives had moved on and his children had dropped out of school. He says he does not know how to rebuild his life.
Tortured in jail
Lukwago says after spending 14 years at Luzira and Kirinya prisons, he now knows what hell is like. He disclosed that one day, he and a group of inmates at Luzira were battered with elephant batons to near death.
He added that on another occasion at Kirinya Prison, two inmates were beaten to death by prison warders in the presence of other inmates. The Prisons department has denied these allegations.
But Lukwago said on February 7, 2006, inmates in the condemned section refused to eat the posho (maize meal) that they had been served, saying it contained sand. The condemned section is the part that houses convicts on death row.
Lukwago said on February 8, 2006, at 5:00pm, prison warders selected seven inmates, whom they suspected to have led the protest over bad posho.
“We were handcuffed and herded like cows to the solitary cells.”
He recalls that warders beat them so hard with batons that an inmate, John Tusiime, suffered a fractured knee.
“The prison warders beat us for almost one hour.”
The Commissioner General of prisons Johnson Byabashaija (right) after launching construction of low-cost staff houses
And while in the solitary cells, Lukwago said the seven of them had to share food meant for one person.
“We were separated from other inmates. There was one tiny hole where one could peep through with one eye,” he said.
The cells, revealed Lukwago, were smeared with human waste, adding that the smell nearly killed them.
He said they were let out of the cells after two weeks when they were on the verge of death.
“We wrote to the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Livingstone Ssewanyana, who responded by visiting us.”
But before Ssewanyana could help them out, Lukwago and Tusiime were transferred to Kirinya Prison. Lukwago says before the transfer, officials from the German Embassy had also picked interest in their case and had started visiting them.
Torture at Kirinya
Lukwago said he was also tortured at Kirinya Prison. Trouble started when inmates in the condemned section complained about a colleague, Bosco Wamimbi, who was critically ill and had been left to die in his cell.
“On July 30, 2009, inmates told the warders about Wamimbi’s illness, which seemed to anger them,” Lukwago said.
He narrated that sick inmates were usually moved from their sections to the sick-bay, where they would be given painkillers, regardless of what they were suffering from.
“After receiving the complaint about Wamimbi, the prison warders went to the condemned section where they selected over 50 inmates whom they took to solitary confinement,” Lukwago said.
“They accused us of planning a protest against bad food.” While in confinement, the inmates were reportedly beaten four times a day for 45 days and went without food for days.
Inmates in the Luzira civil prison talk to Kabanda Elizabeth, one of the registrars of the High Court in Luzira in 2011
Lukwago said: “Whenever the warders were going to beat us, they would say they were going to eat bogoya (sweet bananas).”
Death in prison
Lukwago said on August 7, 2009, he saw prison warders beat to death an inmate identified as Abdukarim from Masaka.
The ex-prisoner said the warders reportedly acted on the instructions of their boss after Abdukarim complained to the O/C that some of the warders were always drunk.
“They beat him with batons made from elephant tusks and smashed his legs, then left him to bleed to death,” he said.
Lukwago also said on October 25, 2009, he heard the officer-in-charge of Kirinya ordering his juniors to beat Felix Aroronga, who also died afterwards.
He said Aroronga was killed because he had a conflict with the O/C, adding that the bad blood started in Arua, before the two were transferred to Kirinya.
When inmates are killed, disclosed Lukwago, prison warders connive with the Police to forge death certificates with false details about the cause of death, before secretly burying of the bodies.
He is puzzled by the fact that prison officers have constantly denied responsibility for the death of the two inmates.
Prison spokesperson speaks out
Prison spokesperson Frank Baine says Lukwago is no angel
Prison spokesperson Frank Baine has asked the public not to believe Lukwago’s tales, saying he is not an angel, having participated in a robbery, in which people were killed.
Baine, who denied that inmates had been clobbered to death, said on several occasions, Lukwago mobilised inmates at Kirinya to riot and that is why he was beaten.
“While at Kirinya, Lukwago told inmates that the conditions at Luzira were better and incited them into rioting in order to be transferred to Luzira,” Baine said.
He explained that the setting of the condemned section at any prison, whether at Luzira or Kirinya, made it possible for inmates to see their colleagues being punished.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission Report 2012 cites incidents of torture in prisons, especially in military facilities and gazetted areas.
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Ex-inmate sues Gov’t over jail murders