NEW SERIES: MY PRISON LIFE
 
 
May 17, 2007
Arrested, tortured for being a ‘Kagame spy’

In June 2005, Acle’o Kalinga travelled with a friend to Uganda.
Their mission was simple. To pick his friend’s sick mother and drive her to Kigali for treatment.
But what started off as a simple journey turned complex when he was arrested by security operatives in Mbarara allegedly for being a Rwandan spy, and an assassin.
His captors told him that he had been sent by President Paul Kagame, allegations he denied.
For one and a half years, Kalinga claims he was tortured at the hands of various security agencies until his release on police bond last week.
He narrated to EDRIS KIGGUNDU how long and torturous his journey to regain his freedom has been.

On June 7, 2005 I travelled from Kigali, Rwanda, with a friend in a vehicle. It was a pick-up Hilux truck. His name is Frank Tumwine. His mother was sick, so we wanted to pick her from Rubaya Sub-county in Mbarara and take her to Kigali for treatment. We drove from Kigali via Kagitumba border point. After the border, at Ntungamo, we exchanged roles and I went on the steering wheel. Reaching Itojo, some people tried to stop us but I just continued driving. They were plain-clothed, [travelling] in a Corona.

Reaching Mbarara, we parked at a Caltex fuel station and went into a hotel to get something to eat. As we were seated, somebody came and told me: “You have parked wrongly.” I went to park well. On reaching the vehicle, I was grabbed by four men who identified themselves as Ugandan security operatives and from that time they put me in their car and drove off. When we reached Lyantonde [along Mbarara –Masaka road], they put me in a different car. Again on reaching Lukaya, they put me in yet a different car; they blindfolded me and tied me kandoya (hands tied at the back).

Tortured under detention
We drove to Kampala. Reaching Kampala, I was taken to a certain place and was asked a lot of questions. They interrogated me, asking what I had come to do in the country. They asked what the President of Rwanda Kagame had sent me to do here. Who had I come to assassinate?

It was not my first time to come here. I was even born in Luwero. So they interrogated me asking me things that were totally irrelevant to what I knew. They wanted to know who exactly I had been sent to assassinate and the people I work with in Kampala. They were forcing me to accept that I was a Rwandan soldier. I have never been a soldier. Unfortunately, I do not remember the people who interrogated me but there are some I can remember in some places.

Tied, testicles hit
They shifted me to more than seven places but because I was blindfolded, I could not know them. They could shift me at night. After some time, they took me to a place and told me, ‘if you are not willing to tell us what we want, you are going to die today.’ I said, ‘all right, if you are forcing me to tell you what you want then it is better to [kill me]’.

This is when they got a string and tied it onto my testicles; then it was tied to a car. They told me to pull the car. As I tried to pull it, they started to hit me with batons. I could see my life going. After that they took me to a tree and tied the string on the tree and told me to pull it down. I could hear noise from other detainees crying inside the building. This was inside a fenced building. They asked me the same questions over and over again and I told them I did not know anything. I personally have never seen Kagame face to face. I see him in vehicles in Rwanda.

Back hot-ironed
After that, they took me to another building. My testicles were hurting. They could come at night and hit them. They just wanted me to say that I am a soldier, a lieutenant by rank and that I had come here to kill some people, and that we have a group which spies for Rwanda.

From there, they took me to another place where they did horrible things to me. They removed my shirt, put about three kilogramme of ghee on my back and a nylon shirt on top of the ghee.

They tied me down on the ground with ropes. One man told me he was going “to iron me” if I didn’t tell the truth. I thought he was joking only for him to switch on the iron box and start ironing the shirt [on my back]. I felt my life gone. He “ironed me” for about 30 minutes.

Because of the ghee which was put on my back, the skin cannot show that I was burnt. From that time I became paralysed, I lost the sense of smell. Even if you wear any perfume, I cannot smell it. I also lost the sense of taste; even if you give me honey I cannot tell its taste.
As a result of the ironing, I bled a lot from behind. I could sit down and see myself covered in blood. It took me about two months to recover.

Taken to VCCU
After that, they drove me to Kireka (at the Violent Crime Crack Unit—VCCU—- offices) and put me in a room called sauna. There was a man, I was told, who needed to see me. His name is Maj. Charles Tusiime. They also told me that [David] Magara [the commandant of VCCU] wanted to see me.

In the “sauna”, I was put alone for four days. They did not torture me. Later, they took me to all these big people and asked me the same questions. I was told that Tusiime is attached to the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI). [Maj Tusiime is the deputy commandant of VCCU]

They took me back and sent three people to interrogate me further. These people found me bleeding and noted that I had been tortured. But they just got wooden frames and hit my ears, so I am half deaf. They just kept me there saying that if I revealed the truth, they would release me. This was September 2005. It is here that I saw the vehicle I had come with to Uganda (Hilux pick-up truck) but this time the number plates had been changed. It belonged to Promagri—an agricultural project in Rwanda. They used it to collect detainees.

Dumped at Makindye
After that, they drove me at night to Makindye Military Police barracks. They put me in the go-down. There were some people there who had been arrested allegedly for selling information to Rwanda. They wanted to see if I knew them but I had no knowledge of them.

I stayed there for a couple of months until they transferred me to a special room, at the quarter guard. They always came and tortured me with batons, sticks and electricity. In one incidence, a man got a pin and pierced my tongue and left the pin inside.

The tongue swelled for almost a month. They put me back in the go-down and after some time moved me to a special cell. Here, they brought a man who was arrested for [allegedly] spying on Uganda. This man was called Kasekende. We stayed together for a week. They wanted to see if I knew him but I did not.

They moved me again into a special cell called incommunicado. You go through seven doors before you reach it. It is a very tiny room that I could not fit in. At night they would handcuff me and hang me on the ceiling till morning. You can see the marks on my hands. During day time they would pour water on me. I used to eat three meals a week. On Monday in the afternoon, Wednesday in the afternoon and Saturday.

I spent nine months in this cell. I got out around February this year. I saw there was no light at the end of the tunnel. I thought I was going to die.

Contact with embassy
Through the Red Cross (they used to visit every month), I contacted the Rwandese Embassy. There was also a lady who was a soldier but she was Rwandese and always came to count prisoners in the morning.
One time she asked me: “What can I do for you?” I told her to contact the embassy. So one day the embassy officials came to the barracks but they were blocked by the commander of the Military Police (Col. Dick Bugingo].

The embassy wrote many letters of protest to government. After some time, Bugingo called me into his office and told me: “We understand that the Rwandese Embassy is intervening but you just deny and say you are not a Rwandese national then we shall release you and hand you to your relatives.” I told him there is no way I could deny my country.

In February, I embarked on an eight-day hunger strike but I fainted on the seventh day. I just found myself in handcuffs and on drip in a room. I learnt that the embassy was trying to secure my release. So one morning I was called out but I did not have the strength to walk.

Kyanjo the saviour
They put me in a car and dumped me at the Central Police Station (CPS) cells. At CPS there are two books. One book is for the people dumped there by other security agencies and another by those brought by the Police. I was always not screened in the morning by the Police because they said they did not have knowledge of me.

After some time, I heard that in Kampala they were striking over Mabira forest. So one evening I saw some people being brought in and I got to learn that they had been involved in the demonstration. They included people like Mukasa Mbidde, Issa Sekitto, Frank Muramuzi. Then Hon. [Hussein] Kyanjo was brought in the next day and I heard people shouting that our saviours have come. He went to a place in the cell we call Sheraton (an executive place). So I went to see him and told him my suffering and problems.

When he went out, I heard him over radio mentioning my name and how I have suffered. In the morning, the Police officers asked me why I had spoken to Kyanjo. I told them he had inquired about us (prisoners).

Release
So yesterday (May 3, 2007), they called me up in the regional CID’s office and one man Matsiko asked me whether I had a surety.
I told him I could contact my embassy. He said: “Don’t talk about the embassy.” I told him I could contact Kyanjo but he said no.
I told him I have no one else who can be my surety. So he said let’s just give you a Police bond and you march out and go.

As he was writing the bond, someone came in, pretending he was my brother but I had no knowledge of this man. I was taken back to the cell. Then there are two policemen who volunteered to help me. They told me there were three CMI operatives waiting for me, so they wrote the bond and as a surety they put the state. The policemen helped me escape this torture. They moved me into another room and sneaked me behind CPS.

They left me out at the small gate and told me to call someone. I called Kyanjo and jumped into a car and met him somewhere. He has helped me by looking after me and contacting the embassy to help me.

I seek justice
I have not seen justice throughout the course of my arrest. I am supposed to report [to Police] on May 21, 2007 but some people want to re-arrest me. Ever since I was kidnapped, I have not seen justice. My family did not know where I was until I informed them recently. I have not been charged with anything.

I am aware that the laws of Uganda hold a suspect innocent until proven guilty. My rights have been violated and I wld like to see justice done.

ekiggundu@ugandaobserver.com