KAMPALA, UGANDA - The Ugandan government is under pressure from human rights activists to explain pictures and reports of the brutal torture of legislators by security forces.
Five legislators — Kasiano Wadri, who won the election; Robert Kyagulanyi, commonly known as Bobi Wine; and Francis Zaake, Paul Mwiru and Gerald Karuhanga — and former legislator Michael Mabike were campaigning for an opposition candidate in Monday's by-elections in the Arua municipality when they were arrested.
Four of the legislators are among 33 people charged with treason for allegedly pelting President Yoweri Museveni's armored vehicle with stones.
On Thursday, gruesome pictures shared on social media showed Zaake, his fingers and head swollen, at a hospital in Gulu district in Northern Uganda.
"You just see … the effect of torture on him," said opposition leader Betty Aol Ochan. "The head is swollen. They have covered the mouth and it looks like even the feeding is done through the nose. He is on a life [support] machine. I am sure he was brought here, probably just pushed, because they fear he was going to die."
Prosecutors charged Kyagulanyi in a military court with possession of illegal firearms and ammunition, equipment the government claims is "ordinarily a monopoly of the Defense Forces."
"He is just there in seclusion," his lawyer, Erias Lukwago, said after seeing him. "He's in the hands of those soldiers there. He has not been allowed access to his own medical doctor or physician. He has not been taken to a private hospital. So, he is just languishing there in pain, if you touched him. Everywhere — especially at the back here. He says he was hit here at the head. And it was at that moment that he blacked out."
The Uganda Human Rights Commission and the U.S. Mission, among others, expressed concern about reports the legislators and journalists have endured brutal treatment at the hands of security forces. They called for humane treatment, due process and transparency.
Brigadier Richard Karemire, spokesman for the Uganda People's Defense Force, rejected claims of torture. He said Kyagulanyi and the others were injured during the Arua chaos.
"What I can tell you for sure is that it's not a culture of the UPDF. UPDF is trained to handle suspects. So, definitely we cannot be held responsible for that. He is being taken good care of by the Uganda People's Defense Forces, since he is now under the safe custody of our institution," Karemire said.
Museveni said he was not injured in the clashes. He warned that other political leaders have been acting with impunity and vowed they would be punished according to the law.