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Ricci – Dissident arrested and detained in Kampala jail 10th June 2008

Account by Ricci

I was in Uganda for six months  again until beginning June.  My dissident efforts once again did not create a knock on affect.   This is an account of the gruelling experience after my friend Mustafa and I were arrested in Kampala on 10th May:

On KFM Radio during April there was a huge campaign promoting AIDS. In March AIC (AIDS Information Centre) announced via the media that door to door “HIV testing” would begin. I imagine this is what could have prompted JCRC to compete by investing its USAID, PEPFAR (Presidential Emergency Foundation for AIDS Research) funds in to a similar theme. The usual mixed messages were repeated: Testing positive is a death sentence and know your sero status.

At the JCRC series of events held at a new location each week, its campaign specifically targeted children, and at that children with generalised sickness. not so surprisingly the organisers sold the event on the basis that on-site testing of both children and their parents would be free of charge. Moreover those found to be “infected” would be referred to the health clinic for free counselling and treatment.

Each new location intentionally targets a slum area.

Posters and banners would be attached to any fixed object changing the atmosphere for the day. AIDS promoters openly refer to the poor as “ignorant”; inferring that they must be ignorant because they are poor. The propaganda would have the near destitute people believe that they could be “a tower of strength to their community”, simply by bringing their children to be tested. In the centre of the field a stage would be set up and prepared for activists to drive their mantras home to the audience of children. Of course all the children in the area would make a bee line to the source of the noise out of curiosity, not usually being considered worthy of entertaining. No children would be tested without a guardian’s consent, I was told. Even so, with such a huge initiative, paid for by the American tax payers, coming almost to the doorsteps of the poorest and most vulnerable; who among the adults would suspect that the free services offered might just be another Trojan Horse!

Of the many activists I spoke to there that day proudly wearing their organisation’s T shirt with a printed caption on, none had any medical background and all were convinced that the services they were promoting must be good, because they were “free”. The recorded bore witness to who the ignorant folk really are. The question, do the tests really work? would be answered thus: Yes, when a drop of blood is placed on the strip and the client is HIV positive you can see a colour change. To the question, do you know the names of the brands of tests being used might be answered thus: No, but they do use three types of tests. Apart from orthodox AIDS researchers agreeing that rapid tests are all unreliable it seems plainly obvious to me that if there was even one reliable “HIV test” then that one would be the one used. Globally. Except that “false-positive results can be expected with any test kit” as according to the Abbott Laboratories test kit insert. The fact of the matter still is that there is no way of distinguishing between cross reactions and real reactions on non-specific antibody tests.

One activist I interviewed, ten minutes into the conversation on the subject of reliability of tests readily described how he, as a child, happened to test positive and his councillor at the time told him not to worry about the result. Would that be the advice given today after the climate of fear has intensified? Years later he tested again and the result was negative. I asked him how they could promote something that he knew didn’t work correctly? He minimised his own experience.

In the middle of the afternoon the HIV worshippers used their drama skills to attract several hundred attentive children of all ages to listen to the life/death mantras. Some lucky young kids were invited on stage to sport JCRC T shirts while mimicking the dance of the leaders imagining themselves to be stars of the day.

Asked if the free anti-HIV drugs had proved to be a success with previous treated children, the young excited activist unwittingly answered that it was not known since the program to test and treat children was still relatively new. In a moment of glee, asked if he wanted everybody in Uganda to be take anti-HIV drugs he replied, “yes”. He must not have known then that the main cause of death for American AIDS patients is liver failure according to the scientific research available.

Of all those interviewed none had read any of the disclaimers printed on the inserts by the manufacturers of either the tests or the drugs being promoted.

My questioning created negative attention among some employees and they became suspicious. I was then ordered by security to move away from the area where people were being tested to maintain patient confidentiality. Yet had organised all the events such that all those who consented to test by tested in the middle of a public field! I did as I was told and left as the atmosphere was becoming tense.

Two weeks later I arrived with my friend, Mustafa at another location primarily to film the action on the stage and to have the words spoken in the microphone translated. There would also be time to interview activists, members of the public and even lab folk and doctors if the opportunity arose.

As we arrived by bus we soon realised that the event had not yet begun because employees were still setting up the stage and tents in the field just off the main road in Natete. My arrival was noticed by one or two members of staff who seemed to be smiling in my direction. I ignored them and suggested to Mustafa that we head for the restaurant across the road. We had barely seated ourselves when two men entered, announced that they were policemen and that we were under arrest. Something about filming without permission. There was no opportunity to protest and show them that the cameras remained inside the zipped bag or that there had been nothing to film since the event had not yet begun. We were directed back across the road to the police station next to the field. We were ordered inside an office and asked to sit ourselves down . Our property was taken from us. There were other people who were not policemen inside the room too. After some minutes curious and resentful looking JCRC members closed in to assure themselves that I was indeed out of arms reach and would remain so for the duration of their “compassionate” efforts to be delivered for the day.

We were informally asked basic questions about ourselves. Soon a man I suspected as posing as a policeman sat himself down and while ready to write began posing a series of questions: My names, age, profession, where I had travelled in Uganda and the motive etc. After a couple of minutes I insisted on being told what I was being charged with. As I got no reply I stopped answering questions. This man gave up, left the room and I didn’t see him again. Being denied any explanation, the hours seemed to be passing us by and I became concerned, despite reminding myself that I had done nothing illegal, my visa was still valid. Worried perhaps because of the atmosphere of concern from the JCRC employees who seemed to have more of a military aura about them than a medical one. What unnerved them all the more was my making a call from my phone to get a message to journalist Andrew Mwenda. I managed to speak to a friend of Mwenda lives and was told that Mwenda was interested in dropping by to investigate my misfortune.

After about 2 hours and without warning we were taken out of the office and into a waiting police car accompanied by two CID officers and two uniformed policemen in the open back. It took us to CPS (Central Police Station) where we were taken up to the first floor and told to sit down in an office, occupied by a detective who hadn’t much to say. Mustafa and I were allowed to communicate freely. After about half an hour the door opened and a policeman ordered Mustafa to follow him. After about one hour he returned distraught pleading to both the uninterested detective and I that it be noted that he had been slapped and abused. That he had not committed a crime did not matter, because he is African he has no rights. Next it was my turn, I knew.

The door opened, a policeman ordered me to follow, we went up a floor and I entered a huge room where almost three rows of chairs were taken up by policemen of various ranks. At the far end of the room was a row of desks and behind one sat what would be the interrogator. I was seated on a bench alongside the window and between the interrogator and the audience of policemen. I was asked the same basic questions as before and although it did seem as though this might be a deliberate attempt to intimidate me I decided to conform, but as the questions continued to delve into my professional and economical history I regrettably began to sound impatient and such apparent lack of respect must only have humiliated the detective all the more. Since I knew that the questioning was going to lead them nowhere and that none of my answers would be considered acceptable it became uncomfortably clear to me that this process was going to last for some time.

If only I had been in possession of my passport there would have been no problem I kept being told. I was reluctant to disclose the whereabouts of it because it was at Mustafa’s home and I didn’t want to bring trouble and embarrassment to the home. Eventually it became evident that I had no choice. Maybe it would end the palaver, now that I seemed to be treated as a spy.

At around 7pm, 8 hours after the initial arrest, we were taken out of the big building to a parked unmarked police car. It was twilight and what was to come next I dared not speculate. After a moment the rear door was opened and I was ordered to get in, lie down and keep my head down. A garment was thrown over my head and I was ordered not to remove it. Mustafa was put into the back of another car where he told me later he was lying on the floor with policemen’s feet kept firmly against his head and body throughout the journey to the next place. After a fifteen minute journey, once the car I was in had stopped, I was able to look up and observe that we were inside a walled compound there were black painted vehicles with no markings on and soldiers patrolling around what seemed to be a normal house. As Mustafa left his vehicle he was clearly disorientated by his head being covered by the T shirt he was still wearing only it had been pulled up and tied at the top to prevent him from seeing anything.

We were kept separated and directed by different military styled personnel to different parts of the house. I lost sight of Mustafa almost immediately and realised once again that he had more to fear than I simply being Ugandan and therefore having no rights. I was led to a detention room that was bare and the door then locked from the outside. Nothing was said, the fact that not even a reference to being charged was now far from my mind. I was apprehensive to say the least. I could be in here a long time and nobody would know where I was, I thought. Except Mustafa of course.

Solitary confinement ended after only ten minutes and I was taken upstairs and entered a room where there was a frightful number of soldiers and policemen. About eight in all. All standing and all looking prepared for something exciting to come. Mustafa was also there. Not appearing to be distraught but he was. This became clear as he kept repeating the words, “tell them the truth, just tell them, tell them whatever they want to know… ” I realised that what he was saying made sense and should not be questioned. The great admission had to be revealed before the squad. “Where do you stay?”, an authoritarian voice demanded to know. I replied that I lived in Zana in Mustafa’s house and that that was where my passport was kept. among two of these standing nearby it appeared that they harboured violent tendencies and one had to be hindered from proceeding towards me. I dare not think what might have occurred had I been uncooperative.

I was asked if we could go to the home where I stayed and to get my passport. I agreed. As if I had a choice anyway.

About eight of us set off in two vehicles at around ten O’clock from what Mustafa would later refer to as a “safe house” in the direction of home, but only for a visit I knew. Prior to departure, obviously I was not going to be charged for anything, I was placed in handcuffs, which were deliberately clasped too tightly around the wrists and left me in constant discomfort. There was a short stop at Zana police station and I took the quiet moment as an opportunity to request to the policeman next to me to loosen the cuffs. He replied that he was unable to assist because the key was with a man in the front car. We arrived home after pulling up to the house this late and in two strange cars and entourage. Mustafa gave them access to the house and showed them into our room. In a moment everything will be over once my passport and visa were inspected. I unlocked the suitcase and produced the passport. The nearest policeman took it and without even showing any interest in opening it, he said, “we want to look in the case, bring it and put it on the bed where we can see it.” I did as was instructed and stepped aside. The many contents were sorted out into two piles. They would take the electronic gadgets, DVDs and printed sheets of A4 paper and leave the books, clothes and other things. Other members of the household began to appear and were questioning and being questioned while drawn to the realisation that I was in handcuffs. Forms had to be signed by members o the household for possessions retained by the police. After which we returned to the cars and Mustafa was taken to the safe house in Kololo and I was taken to CPS and told that I would be spending the night in jail. Along with strangers, suspects of whom may also have committed no crimes.

At around midnight I was handed over to the station corporal at CPS called Okura. He politely asked if I had eaten anything to which I replied that I hadn’t. I would of course have to pay, but at least food could be fetched from outside. I made the suggestion of snacks and milk tea and that the person being sent should buy enough to go round those on duty, since Okura was nice enough to list every single bank note I had in my possession without much of a complaint. He had said that it would not be safe to spend the night in the cell with money with me. There must have been over 50 notes in about 15 currencies and taken over 40 minutes to write down.

After the tea and chat were over he explained that he would be unable to allow me to remain in his office the whole night, because he would get into trouble with the superiors in the morning. I had confided in him my fear of being jailed with non-Western suspects for a while night.

He had escorted me down and wanted to put me in the hands of a man in charge down there who neither resembled a policeman nor someone employed in my respectable position. He wore no uniform and even had the appearance of an alcoholic suspect. A delayed smile greeted me following the brief introduction as I looked back to PC Okura as a plea to provide an alternative. The only alternative was to sleep in a room nicknamed the “Sheraton”, which to uninitiated exists for the privileged who could afford to pay their way out of cleaning duties in the early morning. Among the privileged in the “Sheraton” were about twelve suspects including one South African and one Indian men. Among the unprivileged were about seventy suspects in the main part of the jail.

In the morning that ensued was what was probably a daily commotion consisting of shouting, whining and shrieking while orders were given to the seventy to do their part in mopping and cleaning the floor and toilets on their knees. Members of the privileged seemed to take a discreet pleasure in looking on as duties were attended to.

I was calculating only being here for one night and my interrogators collecting me on time, around 9am. My calculation was correct. I was taken back to what I was later told by the Danish ambassador who lives next door, is the anti-terrorism detention building. There was no being reunited with Mustafa. Instead I was kept in the dark so to speak, periodically questioned along the same lines as before. All questions and answers leading nowhere. Later in the afternoon I witnessed large denomination bank notes exchanging hands twice and wondered where so much money could come from considering that policeman in Uganda typically earn so little officially. I was left sitting with my own thoughts for the most part but always with someone present.

It was getting late in the day and I began to sense the possibility of spending a further night in the slammer. I resisted the depressing thought. I’m a dissident, not a terrorists, but I remember now that in the eyes of those who are obsessed with controlling the world, the two should be dealt with in the same way. After further ado I was indeed released, albeit quite late, and arrived home only to be disappointed and worried, to say the least, that Mustafa has not been released. What was his supposed crime then?

Since my passport and property including my cameras and gadgets were retained I was under obligation to report to the CID officer at Kibuye Police Station. At 10am I had been told. I took the liberty of first approaching the Home Office in Kamoja and reporting my experience to someone there. The man on duty who took a statement from me called Barney, remembered me from 2005 facing a similar ordeal for being an active dissident. First he took a detailed account of what had happened from me and wrote as much down as possible and then said that the embassy would be particularly concerned about my passport being returned, but Mustafa and my property would not be their concern. I then travelled to Kibuye Police Station and reported to CID officer Tweheyo Jackson with a view of having my property and passport returned. Little did I know but this would not happen for about three weeks and was going to be like being kept on the end of a piece of string. I was told to come back the following day.

Mustafa however was released after sixty hours of detention for no other reason than being in my company. On the Monday evening when he arrived home although there was a smile on his face when we saw each other, he soon gave an account of how he had been tortured by five soldiers while detained at the safe house who had repeatedly beat his ankles, knees and stomach and hit his head against the floor sending him from one end of the room to another. They had been torturing him for information and yet all the evidence, if it was dissident evidence they were after, was all printed in black and white in a book aptly entitled What If Everything You Thought You Knew About AIDS Was Wrong? by Christine Maggiore.

After my release I called in to The Daily Monitor and spoke to a reporter who wrote my account of what had happened to my friend and I. He was familiar with the “safe house” in Kololo. I also went bravely back to Kolola and knocked on the gate of the neighbour of the military occupants. The residents there is the Danish ambassador to Uganda, Stig Barlyng and his wife. I asked if anybody resident there realised that next door was a “safe house” and didn’t exactly expect to speak to the ambassador. At least his wife, Begitta was home. She came out onto the balcony after the guard had raised her attention. I began to speak in Danish and mentioned briefly what my enquiry was about. As I mentioned “safe house” she immediately interrupted and said that she would come down. She seemed to know what was what and almost insisted that I speak to her husband and without waiting for a response she let me know that she was on her way to the city and could drop me off at the gate of the Danish Embassy. Her husband, she assured me, was very interested in what goes on in the safe house next door and was active in the field of human rights. We arrived at the gate and she called him from her mobile phone to let him know that a visitor was here to see him. I was soon escorted through security and up to the ambassador’s office, where he was waiting to see me. He confirmed interest in advocating human rights, yet the slogan and “2015” logo on his T shirt, as well as the two meter high banners in the lobby,suggested otherwise, an international effort to reduce poverty, improve health and promote empowerment of women in Africa. Sponsored by Population Council, a known depopulation agency working closely with the Rockefeller Foundation. I told me he was known by government officials for his work on human rights and his deploring the use of “safe houses” in Uganda. He went on to say that, unlike me, he didn’t fear his correspondences and phone calls being monitored, that he always expressed himself openly and therefore felt no reason to be secretive. I don’t know if the one hour chat helped either of us in our different means to advocate human rights, but one thing will always stick in my mind. Since I wanted to get confirmation that the house next door was indeed being used as a “safe house” he drew a map using a page of a notepad and pen, which basically consisted of just a few lines. The name of the utility: Anti-Terrorism Task Force. I wrote this down on the same paper. I had told him that I wanted to take a photo of the entrance and he had advised me against it. Some moments later, as I was preparing to leave, I began to lean forward to reach for the paper and as I did so he reached forward to beat and got the piece of paper first excusing that, just to be on the safe side, he would rather I didn’t take it (the evidence, but evidence of what?)

Taking advantage of my connections I managed to find out that i was actually suspected of being a spy, Interpol was involved who was liaising with the Home Office to get information about me that might help them uncover a credible motive. That no information had been found to pass on seemed only to make the CID officers on the case all the more suspicious. My fear was confirmed, they intended to deport me it was revealed, even though it was known that I had an unchangeable flight home to UK on the 3rd June, less than ten days away. Sure enough CID Tweyeho Jackson told me on the phone on Friday that when I reported to the police station on Monday inevitably comes before a deportation I calculated, was detention. I failed to report on the Monday. I thought, if I drag it out long enough they will allow me to fly home on the proper day and save themselves the expense of a ticket. I called Jackson on the Monday from Jinja to inform him of my whereabouts and it became clear to me that he was untroubled by the fact that I was not go in to be reporting back to him just yet. Although I knew he wasn’t the one giving orders, but receiving them.

As the days passed I couldn’t decided what I feared most, being detained or losing my valuable property consisting of valuable electronic equipment and recordings.

On 30th May Mustafa and I arrived at CID headquarters but instead of going to Jackson’s office we approached one of his superiors who helped us. We went to the block where Jackson’s office was and he made enquiries with Jackson’s colleagues and was told that Jackson was sick and would not be expected back until Monday, the day before my departure. I had already made my mind up that without my property being returned I would not be prepared to leave. the superior officer assured me that all would work out well, I would meet Jackson on Monday and my property returned.

Mustafa and I came on Monday, we met Jackson who asked if I had confirmed my flight at the airline to which I replied that I would not do this until my property had been returned. He then informed me that my property would not be returned until proof of confirmation of flight had been submitted to him. Of course, although I didn’t need to verbalise it, I knew that just because I had got flight confirmed would not necessarily mean that I would be on the flight. Because Jackson would only be on the premises until 3.30pm it meant that I had roughly two hours in which to walk to the city centre, wait my turn in the busy airline waiting room to see a member of staff, get the flight for the following day confirmed and a print out and return to CID headquarters in Kibuye. There were no further delays, because I discovered a way of jumping the queue and I considered this to be an emergency. Except that when I got back to Jackson’t office he excused himself to take a smoking break before we went to speak to a superior officer and get a form signed to release my property. My property was in tact. The only disappointment was that all my recorded interviews had been deleted. This had to be expected considering the controversial admissions made by unsuspecting AIDS employees and experts. This however did not worry me too much since I had back up copies downloaded elsewhere.

The superior officer I spoke to lastly wanted to know if I had any questions or complaints to make. I declined the invitation for the time being. I would first have my property back.

My friend had been tortured, we had been arrested without charge, had our property and passports taken from us, my trip to Rwanda to say farewell to my girlfriend and friends cancelled, my last three weeks in Uganda being full of stress, uncertainty and total disillusionment. And for what? Questioning the failed hypothesis, “HIV” = “AIDS” pandemic among educators and experts!

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