Repression in Uganda has led to the abductions of dozens of more opposition activists by security forces and at least one alleged death. Several hundred people are thought to have been detained without trial in secret prisons where they are subjected to a brutal regime of mistreatment. The country has suffered a series of crackdowns aimed at stamping out dissent.
The trigger for the most recent repression by security services appears to have been the swearing-in ceremony of Uganda’s veteran president, the 76-year-old Yoweri Museveni, in May. Museveni won a sixth term in office in January in an election denounced as fraudulent by the opposition. Police and other unidentified security agencies moved to arrest and detain hundreds in the week before and after the inauguration.
The body of Daniel Apedel was found dumped at Mulago mortuary in Kampala bearing marks of torture on 22 May. Witnesses heard Apedel pleading for mercy with someone he called “officer” shortly before he disappeared near his home in the Kireka district of Kampala on his way home from work. Three days later, a friend received an anonymous call saying Apedel’s body was at the morgue.
“He had been beaten, hit, his fingers were broken, his teeth removed … it was grave torture. It was a very disturbing sight to see.”
Other detainees have had their joints or genitals beaten with wires, been burned with cigarettes or had fingernails torn out. Many have been members of the National Unity Platform (NUP) party. The NUP has listed more than 700 members and activists said to have been detained but said the true figure was likely to be higher.
Museveni has been in power for 35 years and has long been perceived as a key ally of western powers in east Africa. The US and UK have given billions of dollars of development aid and security assistance to Uganda in recent years. Uganda has received more than $1bn of US aid each year, as well as £150m of assistance from the UK.
The US Justice Department reveal that the Ugandan government has hired a UK-based public relations firm to improve its international image. The cost of such contracts often runs to several million dollars.