Ugandan activists describe months of physical abuse in prison

Opposition activists who spent months behind bars in Uganda have described systematic physical abuse, denial of basic legal rights and appalling conditions as they waited for trial on charges they claim were fabricated.

The experiences of the activists, revealed to the Guardian after their release last month, will increase pressure on Uganda, a key western ally in east Africa, over human rights failings that have grown significantly worse since the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, started to face a significant political challenge in recent years.

Since campaigning opened last year for elections held in January, hundreds – possibly thousands – of supporters of the opposition politician, Robert Kyagulanyi, have been arrested and illegally detained for months in the worst wave of repression for decades.

Others, snatched off the streets by security services in a series of abductions, have disappeared into secret jails. More than 50 people were killed during protests in November. Most were shot by security forces.

Among those arrested in the past seven months were more than 120 activists working with Kyagulanyi – who is a former reggae singer also known as Bobi Wine – detained on 30 December on charges of inciting violence after protests following their leader’s arrest for breaking Covid regulations.

Though many were released or bailed, 49 detainees, including many of Kyagulanyi’s close aides, were subsequently diverted from civilian courts to a military barracks before being charged with the serious crime of possessing four rounds of live ammunition.

The men said they were pepper-sprayed and beaten by police while handcuffed during their arrests in December, and then, once confined to a cell, forced to strip naked and perform exercises while being hit with cables and wires by men who appeared to be soldiers. At least one had severe pressure applied to his genitals.

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