Opposition members of Uganda’s parliament are boycotting sittings to pressure the government to address rising cases of arbitrary arrests, brutality and extra-judicial torture by security agencies.
The MPs stormed out of a plenary session this week to show solidarity with their supporters, some of whom have spent more than a year in detention without trial.
Mathias Mpuuga, the parliamentary leader of opposition, on Tuesday said the MPs had initiated a process to censure Security Minister Maj-Gen Jim Muhwezi over his failure to rein in security operatives implicated in kidnappings and torture.
“We believe the Minister of Security has abdicated his responsibility. He has been receiving complaints from the public over torture. We find him unfit to continue occupying that sensitive office,” Mr Mpuuga said.
He alleged that some families have had to pay ransom to security agencies to have their kin released.
Public debate on torture peaked overthe past weeks following the arrest and torture of award-winning author Kakwenza Rukirabasaija, who was picked from his home by military officials after a tweeting spree about President Yoweri Museveni and his son, Lt-Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba. Mr Rukirabasaija was later charged with offensive communication.
After nearly a month in detention and at least two rejected court orders for his release, a court released the author on bail on condition that he would not discuss his case in the media or share his experience while in detention.
But the writer has shared pictures showing injuries on his back, thighs and hands, which he said were sustained from beatings while in detention. He said soldiers used pliers to pluck flesh from his body and made him dance an entire night as they beat him.
Last week, the opposition National Unity Platform paraded before the media its Kasese district co-ordinator Samuel Maseruka who had been earlier arrested by the military.
Mr Maseruka, who couldn’t walk without support, said he was tortured before he was released without charge. He has since filed a case against the government.
The African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims said it records about 1,000 cases of torture annually.
On Tuesday, the Acting minister of Constitutional Affairs Muruuli Mukasa told parliament that torture of suspects, criminals or government opponents was not official government policy. The same message is now being harped by government officials, including President Yoweri Museveni.
Esther Wasswa, the head of programmes at the African Centre for Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture Victims said that her organisation records about 1,000 cases of torture annually, with many having no means or platform to speak out.
“Let us effectively document these cases. It might not be today or tomorrow but information is power. One day we shall hold the perpetrators to account,” she said.
Some of those released from detention tell horrifying tales of torture, and bear the marks on their bodies. Others are still missing.
Last August following reports of torture of opposition supporters, the president who had earlier defended security officers for beating up Bobi Wine “properly” surprised the country and the world in a televised address condemning his security forces and warned them against use of torture, calling ‘’ backward.’’
Social media in Uganda has in the past weeks been inundated by public condemnation of torture and pictures of victims under the hashtag #EndTorture trending on Twitter.
“Don’t beat people, even criminals. You are not allowed to beat anybody, not even children. There shouldn’t be any killing of Ugandans for any reason other than during fighting,” Museveni said.