Families of detained Rwandan nationals demand their release

Families of the six Rwandan nationals arrested on December 19 and 20 want government to take them to court or release them immediately.

The six were separately arrested over a week ago and have since been detained incommunicado without any charges. On December 19, suspected security operatives arrested five Rwandan nationals – Freddy Turatsinze, Jessica Muhongerwa, Vanessa Gasaro, Dianne Kamikazi and Dianne Kamashazi – from the western district of Mbarara.

On the following day, another group of security operatives raided a bar in Nyanama near Kampala and arrested another Rwandan national, Herbert Munyangaju, who was allegedly transferred to the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) in Mbuya.

“After several inquiries, I established that the armed men were operatives of the [CMI] and that, indeed, all the six people are being held at the [CMI] headquarters,” Claudette Ninsiima, a wife to Munyangaju told journalists at a press conference at Grand Imperial hotel this morning.

Ninsiima claims that with the help of her lawyers Gawaya Tegulle and Eron Kiiza, she filed a written complaint to the CMI seeking permission to see her husband in vain. The lawyers have also been denied access to the detainees.

Lawyers Gawaya Tegulle (L) and Eron Kiiza address the media today. Photo: Nicholas Bamulanzeki

Ninsiima appeared at the press conference with the two lawyers but did not allow any photojournalist to take photos of her; and after reading a two-page statement, she left all the talking to the lawyers.

“As a family, we are concerned that our people have been, against their will, detained, pursuant to an arrest irregular and unlawful in every sense of the word,” said Ninsiima, who claimed to be speaking on behalf of the families of all the detainees.

“On behalf of the families of the detainees, I call upon the government of Uganda, and particularly the UPDF and CMI, to respect the detainees and treat them in a humane and respectful way, respect and follow the law regarding the detention of suspects, grant us – the family, lawyers and medical personnel – access to our people,” Ninsiima said.

The arrests came a few days after the arrest of 45 other Rwandan nationals, 43 of them from Kikagati in Isingiro and two others in Kampala.

The 45 are currently being detained at Nalufenya police station in Jinja and face terrorism charges, according to a statement by police spokesman Emilian Kayima.

“The suspects committed very serious offenses, they committed the crimes in different parts of the country, and no one police region has complete jurisdiction over them. Moreover, being a large number involved in the same offences, it is more efficient and convenient to manage them in one place,” Kayima said.

Last week’s arrests brought to 52 the number of Rwandan nationals that are being detained by Ugandan security agencies. The Observer has learnt that the 45 who were allegedly arrested with forged travel documents will be paraded before the Chief Magistrate’s court in Jinja on January 5, 2017.

The arrests and detention, according to Tegulle, are in contravention of international law.

“Under international law, the government of Uganda has a duty to protect anyone within its borders,” Tegulle told journalists, further accusing the government of abusing the rule of law.

“There has been no respect of the rule of law…we have approached CMI and were denied access to them, we called [the army spokesman Brig Richard] Karemire but he did not answer our calls, we have written to the Ministry of Defence but they have not responded. If there are any cases against them, let them [detainees] be brought to courts of law other than being held incommunicado in ungazetted places,” Tegulle said.

Tegulle also claimed that the arrests are out of the growing tensions between Uganda and Rwanda, adding that such tensions should not lead to abuse of human rights.

On his part, Kiiza alleged that, like Rene Rutagingira, who was deported back to Rwanda after spending some time in detention, the detainees have been subjected to different forms of torture.

Our repeated calls to army spokesman Karemire went unanswered.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd