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HRW: Kenyan Activists in Danger of Torture in Uganda

  • Michael Onyiego

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on Ugandan authorities to release Kenyan lawyer Mbugua Mureithi and activist Al-Amin Kimathi or allow them a fair trial. The two have been detained since September 15, when they were arrested on arrival in Uganda.

The pair traveled to Kampala to observe the arraignment of terror suspects accused of carrying out attacks in the Ugandan capital. A total of 34 have been arrested in connection with twin blasts during July's World Cup Final which left 76 dead. While al-Qaida-linked Somali group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attacks, authorities have also arrested Kenyan, Ugandan and Tanzanian suspects.

Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, a Ugandan lawyer representing some of the suspects, reported the Mureithi and Kimathi missing after they failed to appear at the September 16 hearing. Ugandan police have confirmed the two were being held by the Rapid Response Unit, a division which Human Rights Watch Researcher Ben Rawlence says is notorious for rights violations.

"We are familiar with the Rapid Response Unit over a period of time," said Rawlence. "They do not have a very good record. They have a very broad, undefined mandate and there have been a number of cases where suspects have been detained, beaten and tortured in a place called Kireka, which is an ungazetted detention facility. It is kind of like a 'black site' where they can do anything they like. We have previously documented multiple cases of torture and mistreatment of suspects at Kireka and at least two suspects have died while in the custody of agents affiliated with the Rapid Response Unit."

According to Human Rights Watch, the two are currently being held at the facility in Kireka, a neighborhood in Kampala, but their condition was unknown. They have not been given access to counsel and Rawlence told VOA Human Rights Watch was concerned for their welfare.

In 2009, Ugandan journalist Kalundi Sserumaga was beaten and detained in Kireka for making critical remarks about Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on a political talk show. According to Human Rights Watch, at least two people have been beaten to death by members of the Rapid Response Unit. The suspects were detained for alleged thefts and Ugandan authorities say their deaths are under investigation.

Mureithi and Kimathi, were in Uganda to provide counsel to a number of Kenyan citizens being charged by the Uganda authorities for the July attack. Both have been critical of the extradition process used to bring the Kenyan suspects to stand trial in Uganda. The two have argued the removal was tantamount to kidnapping, citing the lack of arrest warrants or court orders required under Kenyan law for extradition.