New Vision journalist, Charles Etukuri, who was 'abducted' six days ago outside the company premises by gun-wielding security operatives has been released without any charge.
According to the report he gave to his bosses and work colleagues, Etukuri was being held by the Internal Security Organisation (ISO) in a safe house in Kyengera.
The reason for his alleged arrest was regarding stories he wrote about deaths of two foreign nationals who died on two consecutive days in two different Kampala hotels. His stories particularly linked the death of Terasvouri Tuomas Juha Petteri, a Finish entrepreneur to ISO officers.
Toxicology reports released by government analytical laboratory indicate that the foreign nationals had traces of poison in their bodies. Terasvouri was found dead in his room at Pearl of Africa hotel on February 6 while Nordlarndar Sebastien Andreas, a Swedish national was found dead the previous day.
New vision managing editor, Ben Opolot, said this evening that because of a critical role journalists play, they don’t deserve “this kind of inhumane treatment” adding that Uganda was a democracy in which such abductions and intimidations are not welcome.
Etukuri’s release follows a High court order last Friday to the director general of ISO Fred Kaka Bagyenda to produce Etukuri in court today, dead or alive. Emerging information indicates that Etukuri was released even before the concerned officers had been served with the order.
Contrary to earlier concerns raised by his bosses at Vision Group, Etukuri says while under detention he was "comfortable" with where he was as he was given good food, allowed to contact his family and bosses.
"I was even comfortable with their food, I was even allowed to communicate with members of my family - so that kept me going…I was staying alone in my own room and I had the liberty of walking around the compound…I was not restricted - day and night and I think that is what I consider as fairness. I also had this liberty of engaging the senior police officers…engaging them intellectually, we argued political issues…" he said.
"I was being detained in a safe house in Kyengera. I would call it a safe house because that is the name they use for it. Of course we were a number of suspects, I was not the only one. There were other people who were arrested, I think of Boda Boda 2010, there were some phone theft suspects who’d been arrested…Well, we were two high profile suspects who were there, me and some other gentleman in Entebbe from the immigration department," he added.
Seemingly justifying the purported arrest, Etukuri was even asked by a colleagues why he appeared comfortable yet fellow journalists and human rights organisations were up in arms over his abduction. Here is his response.
Of course there were issues…first of all they picked me when I was going to my car. They picked me when I was going for lunch and then pick my daughter from school. So they picked me at the entrance when I was just entering the car. The manner in which they hurled me into the car felt a bit uncomfortable. One, first of all they handcuffed, threw me in the back seat.
They were forcing me to sit down and they never wanted me to see where I was going. So they had to throw something on the head, actually they covered something on the head. Now you can imagine going through Kampala for almost an hour at a terrible speed and then meandering. So, I was just going to Kyengera but it looked like a very long distance.
When I reached there, the manner in which the officers who arrested me were not very good people. Of course, they tortured me. The torture on me was psychological - the handcuffing, stuffing me inside the car. When I reached the safe house, the more seasoned officers I found there were quite different. First of all they made me feel at home, at least for a moment. They made me forget the predicament that I had gone through.
Some of his colleagues said his alleged kidnap has tainted the company's image.
"You see for Vision Group, this is a bad image whether you like it or not", said one Vision Group staff before he was cut short by one of Etukuri's bosses.
"You can’t force him to say what he doesn’t want to say," he said.
It has been alleged that Etukuri moves around with a pistol and was "recruited" by Fortunate Ahimbisibwe, a former journalist with Vision Group to spy for the intelligence agencies.
"Of course like I said, the manner in which I was arrested was not constitutional. One, I was hurled into the car, shoved under the seats and then blind folded and driven at a very high speed through humps to an unknown destination.
And then of course much later on senior officers came in who tried to diffuse the whole tension around the arrest. So I wasn’t tortured that is what I want to tell members of the public. There was not torture. At least when I was still in prison…I was able to communicate with my relatives, I was able to communicate to a few of my workmates to tell them that I was okay - to give them that hope that I wasn’t being tortured and to give them that hope that I would come out anytime," he said.
Etukuri blamed his alleged arrest on the fights between security agencies and organs. Lately, ISO and Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) on one hand have been fighting police, with each arresting each other's officers and questioning their work methods. Earlier today police said Etukuri was in "wrong hands" because they had checked all gazetted detention facilities and had not found him.
"Right now the media world is going through a hard time simply because of the fights around security. Right now as a media person, you don’t know what you should report and what you should not report. I think that was the biggest challenge I realise when I was there….And I hope the statement from the head of state that these people should wake up and work together, I hope that when they work together, the media would be able to cover them," said Etukuri.
Etukuri insisted that the facts in his story were not under dispute and ISO was only concerned about the headline, saying it would scare away investors. According to Etukuri, he was made to record two statements. One written and another on camera.