One month after election-related violence in northern Uganda, two women who say they were brutally assaulted by security officers are still recovering from their injuries. The government has questioned the women’s claims while stopping short of an explicit denial.
Jane Abola and Asara Night were part of the campaign team for Kasiano Wadri, an opposition candidate in a by-election for a parliament seat. During a final planning meeting at a hotel in the Arua municipality on the evening of August 13, opposition legislators reportedly were forced to run and hide at the sound of gunshots.
Abola says she ran into a bathroom, but was pulled out roughly and attacked by security officers on the order of a regional police commander. The officers demanded she tell them the whereabouts of legislator Robert Kyagulanyi, better known as Bobi Wine.
“He started kicking me, beating me with those sticks of theirs, their batons, the gun, pricking me with the barrel of the gun, using the butt of the gun,” Abola said of the officers. “At one point he jumped on my back, said ‘[I] am going to kill you if you don’t tell me where Bobi Wine is.'”
An X-ray shows Abola now has damaged vertebrae in her lower back and needs immediate surgery. However, she does not have the $5,000 required to pay for the operation.
Asara Night says soldiers cornered her in the same hotel that evening and beat her.
“It was like, for those soldiers, today is our day,” she said. “It reached a point I could not now realize the pain on my body, because it was too much. I could not now shout, I could not talk. They were just beating. Now when they realized I was not shouting, the only thing, they just had to carry me like a sack from the hotel. They threw me through the window outside. That’s where I was carried to be thrown in the vehicle of the police.”
Night now wears braces on her back, hand and knee, and has constant headaches.
The alleged beatings took place after an incident in which protesters threw stones at the convoy of President Yoweri Museveni, who was in the area campaigning for the ruling party candidate.
Museveni has come under increasing criticism, both at home and abroad, for his government’s heavy-handed response to any dissent. Bobi Wine, the president’s most prominent critic, was arrested last month and charged with treason before leaving for the United States to receive medical treatment.
Abola and Night maintain that their group did not cross paths with the president’s on August 13, because Wadri’s rally that night was in a different location in Arua. Both remain in Kampala hospitals, recovering from their injuries.
No Ugandan official has specifically denied the women’s allegations. Last week, however, Museveni said that anyone who alleged torture by security personnel would need to prove it in court.
Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo says the Arua incidents are regrettable and that action is being taken.
“When those soldiers, when those policemen eventually appear before the respective disciplinary committees, those committees, those disciplinary procedures will be transparent, will be public,” Opondo said.
The Uganda Law Society, in its quarterly report released Tuesday, condemned what it called the inhuman and cruel actions by security personnel in the Arua incident.