NEW SERIES: MY PRISON LIFE
 
 
May 24, 2007
Male inmates peep at naked women


Kitgum Woman MP Beatrice Atim Anywar was the only woman detained at Kampala Central Police Station (CPS) and later Luzira Prison for participating in the April 12 anti-Mabira forest give-away protest that turned racist and violent.
In 'My Prison Life' this week, she tells MICHAEL MUBANGIZI how unknown armed people laid siege on her house from 6:55p.m. to 3:00a.m., forcing her husband to sleep outside that night. She also reveals how she was deprived of her wedding ring at CPS.
She also talks of women being detained with their babies at CPS and Luzira Prison in her story:

I was born in 1964 and I have been in leadership right from my nursery. In all my education I have not been without a leadership position. In Primary Six I was a deputy head girl and head of Young Christian Society (YCS).
I had a vocation to join sisterhood. I grew around the church acting as Mary, leading songs, so my life was religious. I associated with fathers (priests) and sisters (nuns). I also have a cousin, Angelina, who is a sister (nun).
I joined Nkokonjeru Little Sisters of St. Francis Coventry after my A-level for sisterhood training but I stayed there for two years, then my uncle came and picked me; even my clothes remained there. He said, “we shall not waste you”.
My academic prospects were high. I do miss sisterhood because that is what I wanted.
From the Convent, I joined the National College of Business Studies Nakawa [now MUBS] in 1986-7 for a higher diploma in marketing.
I was the vice guild president at Nakawa, so all these were building me politically.
In 2001, I stood on the Reform Agenda ticket for Parliament, but I lost because the elections were rigged. But I stood again in 2006 and won.
It’s true politics and sisterhood are different but when I left the Convent, I started interacting with the outside world.
At national level there has been a vacuum, especially during this regime. My people were suppressed. The North is treated like [the people are] less Ugandan, and their voice does not come out clearly, yet it should be through their leadership.
It took a long time for other parts of Uganda and the international community to appreciate the suffering of the people of northern Uganda.
I thought by joining politics I would stand by the people through thick and thin, and talk on their behalf.
The arrest
It all stated with the Mabira forest give-away.
I know the President [Yoweri Museveni] is so possessed with the industrialisation of Uganda.
But his vision is not in the interest of all of us.
Other forests: Namanve, Buggala islands, have gone in the name of industrialisation.
We have also recently witnessed power shortages as a result of environmental degradation. What about the biodiversity, tourism, natural watershed for waters around Lake Victoria and other rivers which we cherish so much?
In destroying Mabira, can we get better value by being employed by these so-called investors?
You know how these brothers of Indian origin mistreat indigenous Ugandans. You read in the newspapers some time back how an Indian forced a [Ugandan] employee to lick, clean the carpet with her tongue.
They pay them peanuts; are barked at like dogs, and you are supposed to ask for permission even when going to the toilets!
Anyway, having listened to the cries of Ugandans [against the proposed Mabira give-away], we organised a peaceful demonstration so that the government could see our displeasure.
We also wanted to send a message to the Mehta Group that Ugandans are not happy with an individual investor destroying what many cherish.
It was a peaceful demonstration that unfortunately turned the way it did [racist and violent] because of Police inefficiency.
I wrote to Police on April 5, 2007 informing them of the route we intended to use for the April 12 demonstration.
I said that from the assembly at the railway [headquarters], we would move towards Kampala Road and slope to Entebbe Road.
But at midday, April 11, 2007, they asked me to change the route and use Nasser Road because Kampala Road is a busy business area.
We shot back as Save Mabira executives that if there was business to be considered, it was on Nasser Road where there are heavy printers and the rest. Apart from banks, which business is there on Kampala Road? And we weren’t interested in Kampala Road past the Constitution Square. We had also already made radio announcements telling people how we were going to move. Besides, what does it mean to demonstrate? We wanted to be seen, displaying our displeasure.
Police calls
After the demonstration, we walked to Parliament. On the way, I received a phone call from Police saying that they wanted to have a discussion with me.
I said I am so tired, if you want to see me come to Parliament. They said when? I said tomorrow. The Police officer whose name I don’t remember said “okay”. The next day (Friday), I was at Parliament but nobody came. On Sunday I was at Parliament but around mid-day, as I was going to a friend’s place in Entebbe, my lawyer (Abdul Katuntu) rang me. He said that Police had rung him, and that they wanted me. He told me he had promised them that he would go there with me on Monday.
He told me not to expose myself to deny them a reason to illegally take me. He even stopped me from proceeding to Entebbe, so I went back to my home in Kakungulu Akright housing estate on Entebbe Road.
Under siege
I had packed my car outside, so at around 6:55p.m., I moved out to take my car to the garage. I saw two cars; white and red double cabin cars driving towards my gate. I did not drive my car to the garage. I told my children, “let’s go inside the house,” and I locked.
Shortly after, I heard a knock at the gate. There were three people casually dressed. A woman and two men. One man was heavily bleached, with biviri (dreadlocks). The woman, I think, was the overall supervisor because I saw her directing, giving instructions.
I did not open. They knocked again, still I refused because I don’t open for strangers.
They surrounded my home, went to my neighbour and asked if I was in the house.
At 8:20p.m., two men jumped over the wall into my compound, the third one stood by the wall. The lady wasn’t there. I saw two men in greenish uniform. That must have been army men but the rest were casually dressed. They were all silent. I didn’t communicate with them.
By then the second, third, forth and fifth cars had come. They stayed around. I think they were organising how to forcefully enter my house.
They told me they were Police, but how could I have known that they were not thieves or thugs?
How could Police come in plain clothes to arrest me at night?
Calling Ssekandi
I was all along communicating with Abdu Katuntu (my lawyer), and with embassies and media houses about what was happening.
Towards midnight, I communicated to the Speaker of Parliament, Edward Ssekandi.
I wanted to know if they had communicated to him. He said he had got no communication.
Door knocks
Then there was another knock from behind door.
“This is Police, open; we want to talk to the honourable,” they said. I was there, my baby was crying, children were panicking.
Another one went to the front door and knocked; yet another was at the window of the kids’ room, trying to eavesdrop what was inside. They kept around [for a while] and my family was so terrified. Then they went to the LC chairman; they wanted him to come and force me to open.
He said, “No, I can’t be party to your unceremonious arrests”.
Finally, I think my lawyer talked to the CID Police boss, I think Ochola Okoth (acting).
Eventually, I think, they felt ashamed- if they have shame anyway- and withdrew. The last vehicle left at 3a.m.
My children were all terrified; my husband was out so he couldn’t come when the house was under siege. He never came that night; he had to sleep out. I told him that it wasn’t proper for him to return home.
Police summons
In the morning, Hon. Odonga Otto (MP Aruu County) came to my home. He picked me and we went to Parliament.
At Parliament, I found Hon. Hussein Kyanjo.
We went to the Speaker’s chambers to find out if they had brought the Police summons. It was 9 a.m. and there was nothing. I wanted to go to CID but the Speaker told me to wait. The Speaker was surprised at what had happened to me the previous night.
Shortly afterwards, the Speaker received two contradictory summons. The first one wanted me to go to CID offices at 2p.m.; the second one wanted me to report at 9a.m.
It was coming to 10:00a.m., so the Speaker called Ochola Okoth to tell him that he had received their two contradictory summons for Hon. Beatrice Atim. It’s now beyond 9a.m., so she can’t come at that time, but she is coming, he told Ochola. So I went with Hon. Kyanjo and the lawyer.
CID boss
The three of us walked to CID where we found Ochola. We confronted him: “If you want us, Members of Parliament, do you have to send your men at night to lay siege on our homes? If you called us or summoned us, wouldn’t we have come?”
“That thuggish behaviour tarnishes the Police image. And we think the militarisation of the Police has taken the professionalism out of you,” we told him.
Three groups, including VCCU, control the Central Police Station (CPS); they all arrest and dump people there. We asked Ochola if Police indeed were in control of CPS; he said, “No, we are in control”. He also assured us we would not be mishandled. We stayed here for more than an hour, then we were told to go to CPS to record statements. Ochola gave us the director of anti-terrorism, whose name I don’t know, to go with us. I went in their vehicle with Hon. Kyanjo.
At CPS
We reached there past midday and made a statement at around 1p.m. It was generally about what had happened during the demonstration.
It took almost two and half-hours. Then they called in Hon. Kyanjo.
After an hour, they called in Frank [Muramuzi, the Executive Director of National Association of Professional Environmentalists]. Frank had found us at CPS.
After that, they told us that we couldn’t go to court, therefore we had to be detained at CPS.
Our lawyers asked them why they delayed if they were time barred. He also asked them to give us a non-cash bond, but they refused.
Toilet cells
At around 6p.m., we were pushed to our cells that are like toilets - at least where I stayed it was a toilet.
On entering, they removed every thing - shoes, bag, watch and phone, even my wedding ring, and rosary. They (Police) are not for God.
I gave them to my lawyer who took them home.
Male cells are opposite the women’s cells, separated by a corridor.
I found there about 12 women in a 5 by 7-metre room. The ground was filthy with a portion for toilets and then a sink for washing plates. The rest [of the space] was for sleeping. It’s an underground room, so it must have lights even during day.
The women looked very miserable. But they were happy to receive us. There were no mattresses but prisoners had small blankets and mats that I sat on.
They started asking me what I had done, and telling me what their fate was. Some of them had stayed there for three weeks without appearing in court.
There was an expectant mother who was bleeding. She had been beaten during her arrest. She had been there for three weeks without going to court and making a statement. I am sure she is still there.
One was given bail but Police connived with people [accusing her] and re-arrested her.
Her two sisters came to see her and they were also arrested. There was a breast-feeding mother, her breasts were swollen and the baby was crying in pain.
There was also a Rwandese lady. She said that she went to visit a friend at State House and was suspected to be a spy for Rwanda, so she was arrested. It was a miserable situation.
They hadn’t made any statements and hadn’t been taken to court.
I did not see any food supplied that night until the next day when I saw some few beans in water and posho brought.
At night we talked a lot. The inmates said to me, “If you go out, let it be known that we are here, it seems people don’t know that we are here.”
No bathing
I did not bathe. The portion that separates the toilets from other parts is a cardboard about a meter long. The other part is an iron bar.
So the male prisoners can see. “Mpitirayo oyo ajje mulabeko,” they say. (Call me so and so and I look at her). So there is no privacy; they gaze at you. You can’t pour water on yourself when all men are at the entrance.
I slept a bit at around 4a.m.; I can’t say that my eyes were open the whole night.
On Tuesday morning, I was called to go and make another statement, after which I was moved back to my room.
There was no work; just standing, talking, lying on your hips and sleeping. But we knew what was happening outside, the chaos…
When Dr. Kizza Besigye came to CPS, the inmates were excited, they banged and shouted “Yeah, yeah our man!”
It was during that confusion that some of the male prisoners who stayed in a different room came to talk to me. Some of those arrested for the demonstration were taken to VCCU in Kireka, beaten until Sunday evening when they were brought to CPS.
They were asked, “Who killed the Indian?” When they said they didn’t know, they were told to say, “Honourable killed the Indian”. I don’t know which honourable, but I think they were referring to me. But the suspects declined to say that.
Towards 4p.m., a Police officer came to the women’s cells and told me to move out with all my things. They had brought me tea, so I had a flask and a basin.
We insisted on going out as the Mabira group.
We passed behind CPS and entered Buganda Road Court. I and Kyanjo weren’t handcuffed, but others were.
In court, they asked us about allegations of inciting and participating in an unlawful riot and loss of life as a result. Our lawyer applied for bail. It was granted but we could not pay the money because it was already coming to 6p.m. All banks were closed. But all these were tactics intended to make us go to Luzira Prison.
To Luzira
So we moved to Luzira in a bus heavily guarded, like VIPs. I was the only lady on the bus - Maama Mabira!
I did not feel isolated because I made the biggest noise on the bus. I asked them if they had arrested my mouth. I waved my V (FDC) sign throughout; you know it was late in the evening in a heavy traffic jam.
It was already 7p.m. when we reached Luzira.
We first went to Upper Prison to drop those who were on murder charges, then to the male cells.
There was one boy who insisted that he wasn’t 18 years; he was put on a 999 Police patrol truck and brought back, I think to CPS.
I reached my cell, the women’s ward, at about 8p.m. There were about 20 prisoners, including four mothers with babies.
I wore a Besigye T-shirt and it was telling. They said: “Wow, the Father of Prisoners (Dr. Besigye) has arrived, as well as Mama Mabira.”
They made a lot of noise, and the wardress warned and threatened them; “Tomorrow you will pay for it, what is new that is exciting you?”
But the sleeping conditions at Luzira were better. They have mattresses, double-decker beds. They offered me a bed but I declined and slept on a mat.
I found there a girl who also insisted that she wasn’t 18, but the wardress shouted that in Uganda once you are 15, 16, you are already an adult.
The ward was clean; it was managed by women. The toilets are separate. When I arrived, they gave me water to bathe, but I bathed the following day.
Crying children
But the children’s presence in the ward was the most touching. I saw children desperately crying for something; like milk, porridge or food, but there was nothing.
One woman started slapping the baby. I said, “You can’t transfer your anger onto the baby, it’s innocent.”
In the morning, prisoners were served porridge but I did not take it. Actually no body even told me that there was porridge.
I went to register and my number was 165.
The lady I was registering with has HIV/AIDS and she was on drugs-ARVs. She told the wardress that she had forgotten her drugs in the room but she was not given permission to collect them. She started crying and I left her in that registration ward.
As we were still registering, the OC (officer in charge) came and took us to the bus. It was already full with the other inmates. The bus came dropping them off at different courts until our group was dropped at Buganda Road Court at around 10a.m.
We came out of Buganda Road Court at 4p.m. when the processing of our bail forms had been completed.
My lawyer did not want me to talk to the press. He put me in his car and his driver drove away.
But as I reached the junction between Kampala Road and Entebbe Road, a speeding Police 999 vehicle came and positioned itself in the middle of the road. We tried to over take it but we could not move forward. There were two military vehicles behind us. I told the driver to drive back to Parliament. I also communicated to my lawyer about the incident. At Parliament, I went to the Leader of Opposition, Prof. Ogenga Latigo, who drove me home in his car.
We reached home at around 7:30p.m. I carried my babies and hugged my children. None of them had visited me. They wanted to bring them but I didn’t think it was necessary; they would be traumatised. But using my lawyers’ phone, I had talked to them and told them that I was okay.
No regrets
Prison is an experience every one should expect. As legislators, sometimes we talk about issues like human rights abuses without experiencing them, but now I am more armed to talk about human rights abuses.
I know how suspects are treated, the trauma they go through and the long hours they are detained.
The aim of prison is to rehabilitate someone but people come out more hardened to face rough and challenging situations. They are actually more prone to crime than fear.
There should be a mechanism of imprisoning mothers without infringing on the rights of their children, and I am going to move a motion in that line.
This demonstration was a foundation for our national unity over national issues and that gives me more satisfaction. Ugandans are rising above the divide and rule policy.
You heard what Hon. Tom Butime said, “over my dead body”. He demonstrated over Mabira.
Ugandans are fed up. They no longer fear teargas and live bullets. I think this government and Mehta have heard. I know government wants to quietly withdraw on Mabira. My only worry is that they are going to grab other forests.
Save Mabira crusade is going to move out of Kampala to those forests under threat.
Looking back, I have nothing to regret over Mabira because I am convinced that this is a Ugandan voice. If I am carrying the cross of Ugandans, it becomes lighter. I have already acquired the name “Mama Mabira”.
Imprisonment doesn’t break people, it hardens them. I am harder now. I am mahogany, ready for more challenges. This business of threatening people with arrests, framed up charges, intimidation; some of us are not going to back down on that.
mcmubs@ugandaobserver.com

prison:
Beatrice Atim Anywar