Repetitive assault, false accusations of being a spy, and all sorts of inhumane treatment are all that 24-year-old Jennifer Byukusenge got during her month-long detention at the hands of Ugandan security operatives.
Byukusenge, a student at Mount Kenya University in Kigali claims that she travelled to Uganda on April 3 to visit her mother who lives in Nalukolongo, a Kampala suburb.
She claims that two days later, she was arrested from Buziga another neighbourhood of Kampala by people she later learnt were from the Ugandan Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI), who accused her of espionage.
Byukusenga says that she was among 17 Rwandans who were on Wednesday, May 5, dumped at Kagitumba border by Ugandan authorities after being illegally detained in the country for weeks however the authorities in Uganda affirm that the Rwandan Nationals were deported and had entered the country illegally.
When she travelled to Uganda, Byukusenge was excited to be with her mother who she had not seen in months but the family reunion was short-lived, after just one day, when she was arrested from her friend’s house.
She suffered all sorts of inhuman treatment and on a daily basis faced threats to her life and this mainly took place at the CMI headquarters based in a location known as Mbuya, also in Kampala.
It all started with a phone call from an acquaintance whom she only knew as Faisal who said that since she was in town, they could arrange for a meeting where he could greet her, saying it had been a long time since they had met.
“This individual was among the very few people who knew that I was coming to Uganda and he turned out to be one of the people who arrested me,” she said.
“When he called a day after I arrived in Kampala, I told him I was visiting a friend in Buziga. I promised I would find time and meet up with him.”
But Faisal insisted that he really wanted to greet her. He asked where she was so he could drop by and Byukusenge gave him the address of her friend’s house.
After he got to the address, he called her outside so they could greet. The moment they met, three men sprung out of nowhere and grabbed her.
She initially thought her friend was also a victim but she later found out she was wrong.
“You’re all criminals,” the men harshly told her.
“I kept asking ‘who are you? Why are you arresting me?’ I asked the person I was going to see what was going on but he acted like he had no idea about what was happening,” she said.
But it was a bait.
They shoved her into a car and sped to a destination she did not know. She was told that they were going to interrogate her along with Faisal for some minutes and after they would let them go.
Meanwhile, Byukusenge’s friend all along thought she was still outside speaking to Faisal.
She however got suspicious when she saw her friend was taking long so she went outside to see. She could not find Byukusenge or Faisal outside and as she made enquiries, a security guard told her that they had been taken in a car by a group of men.
She immediately informed Byukusenge’s mother.
Meanwhile, on the way, the men moved Faisal in another can and separated him with Byukusenge.
They started telling her to stop complaining because she had ‘nothing to do about her predicament.’
She was then blindfolded and driven off and the hood was only removed when she was in a toilet of a house she did not know.
Byukusenge said she was locked up in this toilet for the next two weeks.
‘How many soldiers do you know?’ ‘What brought you to Uganda?’ were key common questions that Byukusenge was asked during her detention, as she endured a torturous ordeal.
She describes the first three to four days of her detention as ‘hostile’ as she got beaten by the men who interrogated her.
“They could beat me up asking me names of soldiers and police officers saying that we know each other.
“I told them that I am not familiar with people in security; that I was a mere university student. I just told them names of three men who are serving in Rwandan Defence Force that I know.”
They then checked through her phone contacts and found one person – a prison warden – she had saved as ‘Afande’.
They asked her who it was and started beating her.
They kept asking who sent her. ‘Is it (President, Paul) Kagame who sent you?’ ‘Tell us who exactly they sent you to [spy] on’.
Byukusenge still feels the pain from the beating she endured. She said they beat her under her feet and all over her body during the interrogation while in detention.
“I still feel pain whenever I go to sleep,” said a shaken Byukusenge.
After two weeks in the toilet, she said she was moved to a small cell where two female Rwandans were detained.
None of them knew the place of detention until she discovered that they were detained in Mbuya.
For the whole month she spent at the detention, Byukusenge had no idea of the reason she was detained. She was surprised to read news reports after she got out accusing her of being ‘deployed’ to ‘assassinate’ former Deputy Inspector General of Police in Uganda Maj Gen Sabiiti Muzeyi.
“I am not a killer. I went to Uganda through legal channels and, upon arrival, my mother informed local leaders as is the requirement. I only knew that [alleged plot to kill Sabiiti] after being deported because I even left the detention without knowing which case I was detained for,” she said.
No Rwandan is safe in Uganda
Byukusenge says Rwandans in Uganda are at high risk of facing false accusations and hence get illegally detained.
“Apparently every Rwandan there is at risk to the point that, if a Ugandan neighbour hates you, he can report you anytime and make false accusations that you are spying even if you’ve not been in Rwanda for a long time,” she said.
In 2018, government warned Rwandans against unnecessary travel to Uganda, urging them that their safety could not be guaranteed there.
Since then, thousands have been deported, many of them after suffering torture on varying degrees.
A top security official in Uganda says that dozens of Rwandan nationals have been linked with criminal activities in Uganda and they often try to instead turn around and have been on several occassions been used by the Kigali regime to tarnish the image of Uganda once released.
The allegations by Byukusenge cannot be independently verrified by this website.