Freed Prisoners Describe Harsh Treatment With AM-Uganda
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) _ Some of the hundreds of political prisoners freed Saturday by the new military government told of harsh prison conditions in which dozens died of starvation or suffocated in jammed cells.
The 1,203 prisoners, including 44 women, were released from the Luzira maximum security prison outside Kampala and brought in trucks to the capital. An estimated 70,000 people jammed the main square, choked side streets, stood on roof tops and climbed trees to watch the arrival.
All the prisoners had been jailed during the 4-year administration of President Milton Obote, who was toppled in a coup July 27.
″This action by the Military Council marks the end of the injustices committed against these innocent citizens,″ the new head of state, Lt. Gen. Tito Okello, said during the ceremony at the square.
But some of the freed prisoners who were interviewed expressed little hope that the government which had liberated them would treat the people any better than previous rulers.
″Throughout all the years Uganda has suffered, you have more or less the same kind of people doing the same kind of things,″ said James Namakajo, one of the ex-detainees. He was press secretary to President Godfrey Binaisa during a short-lived government following the ouster of dictator Idi Amin in 1979.
Namakajo, 38, said he arrived at the Luzira prison about a month ago after spending five months at the Katikamu and Bombo prisons north of Kampala. He said he was arrested in February after trying to win the release of a Kenyan friend who had been arrested on suspicion of spying.
He said he was imprisoned with a group of 274 people, and in five months 68 died of hunger, suffocation or lack of medical treatment. He told a reporter he weighed 180 pounds when he was arrested and now weighed 140.
The once-daily meal at the prisons consisted of about eight ounces of a corn meal porridge and two ounces of beans, he said.
″People were starving to death. People were eating banana peels, if they got them, and they got sick from picking rubbish to eat,″ he said, adding that the treatment at Luzira was slightly better.
Mohamed Farooqui, a senior police official during Amin’s regime who spent more than six years behind bars, called his prison experience ″horrible and monstrous″ but did not elaborate.
Farooqui, 65, was one of the longest serving political prisoners. He said he was jailed April 15, 1979, five days after Amin was driven from power and into exile.
Balaki Kirya, a former government minister and a political leader of the Uganda Freedom Movement rebel group, said he was accused last year of treason and remained in detention even through prosecutors withdrew the charges against him.
Kirya said he had been abducted by Kenyan government agents while in exile in Nairobi, Kenya.
″They grabbed me, blindfolded me, gagged me and beat me,″ he said. ″I was thrown in a van and I found myself in a jail cell. The next day they took me to the Ugandan border and turned me over to Ugandan officials.″
There was no immediate comment from the Kenyan government on his allegations.