KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Rights activists and others are urging Ugandan authorities to restrain security agents accused of torture after a man who had been missing resurfaced with wounds on his chest.
Eric Mwesigwa says he was tortured by security personnel, allegations a military spokesman dismissed in a statement asserting that the man “was not in the hands of any security agency.” That statement angered some who saw it as a sign of impunity amid persistent allegations of torture in this East African country.
Mwesigwa, a supporter of the opposition figure and popular singer known as Bobi Wine, said earlier this week that hot metal objects were placed on his body, leaving two raw wounds on his chest. His allegations of torture were repeated by Wine on Twitter.
The security agents who tortured Mwesigwa wanted to know Wine’s plans “to overthrow the government,” said Wine, a former presidential candidate whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu.
Torture charges against security personnel in Uganda are not new. On Thursday Uganda marked the anniversary of the death of outspoken Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum, who in 1977 was murdered by torture at the hands of security agents during the regime of dictator Idi Amin.
“It’s a contradiction and shame that we commemorate the murder of Archbishop Luwum by Idi Amin when state security operatives torture Ugandans in this manner, today. Respect for human rights is the foundation for democracy and progress,” Charles Peter Mayiga, an attorney who is the premier of the traditional kingdom of Buganda, said on Twitter Thursday, citing the case of Mwesigwa.
Wine alleges that many of his supporters have suffered torture after being taken into custody in the aftermath of a disputed presidential election in 2021.
The new torture allegations come amid controversy over the Ugandan government’s refusal to renew the local mandate of the United Nations human rights office. Ugandan authorities justified that decision by asserting that the government is committed to protecting its own people.
Criticizing the Ugandan government’s decision in a statement Wednesday, Human Rights Watch charged that Ugandan authorities have “had a long history of abuse and repression, especially of critics of the government and the political opposition,” and that they “have failed to hold government security forces accountable for serious human rights violations.”
The European Union and the United States in the past year have raised alarm over torture allegedly perpetrated by Uganda’s security personnel. Recent victims include Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, a satirical writer now exiled in Europe.
Many critics hold President Yoweri Museveni liable, saying the abuses are perpetrated by security agents enforcing his authority. Museveni, who has held power since 1986, has repeatedly said his party doesn’t condone torture.
Museveni, once praised as part of a new generation of African leaders and a long-time U.S. security ally, still has support among many Ugandans for bringing relative stability to the country.
He once criticized African leaders who refused to step aside but has since extended his time in power by overseeing the removal of term limits and an age limit on the presidency in Uganda.
Uganda’s elections are often marred by allegations of fraud and abuses by security forces.