On Boxing Day, a Rwandan journalist who had travelled to Kenya for holiday spoke to the chief editor of Taarifa. It was a casual chat. It ended with the journalist saying she had plans to visit family in Uganda thereafter. “I am terrified of Uganda,” the chief editor said. “Why what’s happening? Fill me in,” the journalist responded.
“They are arresting Banyarwanda anyhow,” he told her. “Several innocent Rwandans have been picked on the streets by Uganda’s intelligence and held incommunicado, tortured, harassed and coarse to confess to falsehoods before they are dumped at the border to return to Rwanda.” The conversation ended with her considering both options, return to Kigali or risk and visit her family.
Their discussion occurred at the time when seven Rwandans were rotting in secret cells run by chieftaincy of military intelligence (CMI).
Due to pressure mounted by families and lawyers of the victims, CIM released five victims on Friday evening December 29 and dumped them at the Gatuna border after two weeks of torture and harassment. They were picked up by local authorities.
Hubert Munyangaju Umugwaneza, Fred Turatsinze, Vanessa Gasaro, Jessica Muhongerwa and Dinah Kamikazi were separately picked up from their business premises in Uganda at gunpoint.
The victims narrated the abuse to members of the media who attended a press conference in Kigali immediately after they were picked up from the Gatuna border post.
“On the night of December 16, I was at my aunt’s pub that I manage in Mbarara,” Ms. Muhongerwa, 29, recalled the horror. “A man and a woman came in and started pushing tables around. This seemingly provocative act drew my attention. I moved closer to ask what was going on and immediately another uniformed soldier also entered. They put me at gunpoint, confiscated my phone and pushed me in their car along with another employee. They immediately used our jackets to blindfold us in a very ruthless and painful manner.”
The captors drove around Mbarara picking up people and piling them in the car. They were taken to different cells and kept there. “They started to question me on the fourth day,” she told the press.
“No single day did I see the sun, I was blindfolded throughout until this (Friday) morning.”
They repeatedly harassed as they kept enterogating her if she knows or is related to anyone in the Rwandan army and whether she communicates with them. She pleaded not knowing anyone in the army, at least not anyone she is in touch with.
But they insisted that she was not telling the truth. “They assaulted me and threaten more violence if I didn’t admit to knowing the soldiers,” she remembers.
Dinah Kamikazi was questioned about knowing Rwandan government officials. She was stripped naked, forced to sit in a room full of water. They threatened her with electrification if she did not confess. “One of the nights, I was moved to a room that was filled with water on the floor; they stripped me naked and made me sit in it. I was told to confess that I have connections with officials in Rwanda and that if I don’t, they were to place a live electric wire in the water and electrocute me to death.”
She sobbed. “I begged for mercy and told them the truth that I don’t have any connections with officials in Rwanda,” she said. She was not electrified, but she was repeatedly harassed, yelled at, insulted and intimidated. All this time, she remained blindfolded.
Hubert Munyangaju Umugwaneza
For Umugwaneza, the ordeal is discomforting too. “I was picked up in Kampala by eight armed men in civilian clothes,” he said. They placed me on gun point and threatened to shoot me if I said a word.”
“They rounded me up and forced me into a waiting car. They removed my shirt and used it to blindfold all night,” Umugwaneza said.
Umugwaneza was held in a dark, underground cell at CMI headquarters at Mbuya Military Barracks. He was severely assaulted by operatives who kept demanding that he confesses to having been “involved”, but without telling him what exactly they wanted him to admit to have been involved in.
“The pain was so unbearable, “he said. “I decided to buy some time by speaking French,” he told the journalists present. “That’s the moment they hit me with something very heavy on my chest and I fell down.”
It was not until later on that day they told him what his being “involved” was about. It was about the arrest of Lt Joel Mutabazi. “I totally had no clue about it. I kept telling them this, but they were never prepared to believe me. They continued to torture me. All this went on while I was blindfolded,” he told journalists.
Turatsinze was arrested from his dairy business in Mbarara town and also detained at Mbuya Military Barracks. While there he found another businessman, a Mufumbira of Rwandan origin called Johnson Nunu, who was recently kidnapped from Ntungamo also by CMI.
After the blindfolds were removed at night when they were using the toilet, Nuunu introduced himself to Turatsinze and told him that he also didn’t know why he had been detained. “When the guards heard us speaking, they immediately separated us and moved us to different cells,” said Turatsinze recalls.
They were both forced to confess if they were Rwandan spy agents. CMI later transferred them to Kireka police station where they were told that police would release them on bond.
The following day only Turatsinze was loaded into a vehicle heading to Gatuna where they were dumped for collection. He does not know what happened to Nunu. The fate of the other remaining two victims is mysterious.
These victims have left their properties and businesses unattended to. They have pleaded with the government of Rwanda to follow up the case and help them be accorded justice.
The government of Rwanda has made no comment on the matter, but Taarifa has independently learnt that Rwanda’s ministry of foreign affairs has officially engaged Uganda on the matter.
Fidele Gatsinzi and Rene Rutagungira
Meanwhile the case of the seven victims follows that of Fidele Gatsinzi who was brutally tortured and dumped at the border as well. Rene Rutagungira faced a similar demise, but was produced before court. He remains behind bars. His fate is unknown.
Read about the two in the articles below