The Chief Editor of Online news publication, The Investigator, Stanley Ndawula told The Observer about his two-day experience after suspected ISO agents kidnapped him at midnight on Friday, July 27 and took him to a safe house in Kyengera outside Kampala.
Ndawula says he was later transferred to ISO headquarters for interrogations over his reporting about a man allegedly tortured by ISO. Ndawula was picked from Yaya Lounge, along Bukoto street in Kamwokya, near Kampala.
“[That night] after escorting some of my clients, and had returned to lounge, I was approached by a man who was seated at the counter for several hours drinking Black Label whiskey. He engaged me in a conversation for few seconds and then within a blink of an eye, three men attacked me, slapped me, pointed pistols at me and told me I was under arrest,” he says.
“They didn’t allow me to ask them anything or for a warrant of arrest. They dragged me inside their vehicle and told me to cooperate with them. Some were dressed in army uniform while others in plain clothes. They were driving a vehicle with government number plates.”
As the car sped off, he didn’t know where they were heading. Luckily, he wasn’t blindfolded; so, when they reached Kubbiri roundabout off Mulago hospital, he heard then proposing to take him to “Base 2”.
“When I heard them saying Base 2, I confirmed that I was kidnapped by ISO, since it uses those words to mean safe houses in Kyengera where they have Base 1 and 2. Base 1 is headed by one Capt Juuko while Base 2 is headed by Jack Erasmas Nsangirabo who is also the commandant for these safe houses,” Ndawula says.
He says, when they reached Base 2, about six soldiers surrounded and placed him at gunpoint. They asked him to surrender all his belongings, including phones and also demanded for his next of kin telephone contact.
“They forced me to submit my family contacts and I gave them my eldest brother’s number since they told me he will be responsible to pick my body. They took me to another room which had a bed and blanket,” he says.
The following day on July 28, he says, he was approached by one Kamugisha who interrogated him about his relationship with Movit Products Ltd boss Simpson Birungi.
“They asked where I stopped with the Budo Junior School murder investigations. I told them my investigations hit a snag because I found that Birungi had information which was not adding up. They also asked me about Birungi’s manager Stephen Asaba [who was murdered in 2010]. I told them, even if I know something on Birungi, I can’t reveal it because of how I was arrested. If they wanted me to be their witness in court, they would have summoned me but not kidnap and threaten me,” he says.
Birungi was only recently released after 45 days in ISO detention, having been picked up by ISO men on June 7. News reports indicated that he was being held in connection with the April 2008 Budo Junior School fire which claimed the lives of 20 pupils.
On Sunday July 29, Ndawula says he was taken before ISO director general, Col Frank Bagyenda Kaka. He was surprised when the interrogation turned to a claim that he had written a story about how ISO allegedly tortured another city businessman, Ivan Musimenta, in their safe houses over the same Budo fire issue.
“I told Kaka it wasn’t me who wrote that story but another publication. However, I said it is a true story since I also interviewed Musimenta, saw all his medical and scan forms, confirming he was tortured,” Ndawula says.
Ndawula says Kaka turned to Nsangirabo and asked whether they tortured Musimenta. Nsangirabo then answered that they beat him for entering their cells with a mobile phone. Musimenta’s story was published last month by an online website, Trumpet News, indicating how ISO operatives tortured and forced him to implicate Birungi in the Budo fire.
“Kaka never asked anything about Birungi’s issues. After interrogating me, he released me and warned me to be careful with my reporting and always cross-check before publishing anything and stop dealing with bad people,” Ndawula said.
Ndawula’s says although he refused to eat food provided by ISO apart from drinking mineral water, “I feel stomach pain now and some fever since they released me. I am going for poison tests. I also feel unsafe with people trailing me to-date and tracking my phone calls,” he said
Ndawula’s name has continued to come up in recent reporting around Birungi and the Budo fire, including a claim that he tried to extort money from the businessman. But during the Friday, August 3 interview with The Observer, Ndawula denied allegations that he asked Birungi for Shs 1 billion to drop the Budo story.
“That story is not true. They won’t take that case anywhere. Because when people see that you are moving ahead of them, they start creating things against you to pull you down,” he said.
He thanked media for publishing his story when he was kidnapped because it caused ISO operatives to panic and present him very fast to Kaka for questioning. Ndawula says, however, Ugandan security has failed to cope with the current technology of monitoring people and arrest them, and uses kidnaps which threaten the economy, investors and it retards development.
Birungi was arrested on the orders of Kaka after he was interrogated by police about his alleged complicity in the murder of Asaba in 2010. He was released unconditionally due to pressure from the Uganda Law Society which threatened to drag Kaka to court for abducting people and holding them incommunicado for months.
In February 2018, Charles Etukuri, a New Vision journalist, was grabbed by unknown men dressed in army camouflage as he left office on First street, Industrial Area in Kampala.
The men later turned out to belong to ISO. According to Etukuri, army men had trailed him since morning that day of arrest using spies from New Vision office. He had parked his vehicle at JR complex and was entering it to go for lunch when they snatched and stuffed him into their car.
“I was attacked by two army men in uniform and four others in plain clothes. Four soldiers surrounded me, put me at gunpoint, and told me I was under arrest. There was no time for questioning as they forced me into the car and handcuffed me,” he said.
Etukuri says, they used a jacket to blindfold him as they drove around the city. When they reached what he believes was the Wandegeya area [he remembers hearing taxi touts calling passengers for Kamwokya, Ntinda], Etukuri says the soldiers debated connecting to Bwaise and then the Northern Bypass.
“I didn’t know where they were taking me but when we reached at a gate, they said, fungua meaning open in Kiswahili. They pushed me into the garage and ordered me to remove my shoes and took my phones. They left me handcuffed. I couldn’t believe that I was arrested, it was a shocking moment,” he says.
“I saw around eight people also arrested and detained there such as Paddy Serunjogi aka Sobi [a notorious armed robber]. They blocked them from talking to me and at around 5pm, I was approached by a man from Special Forces Command (SFC), who told them not to torture me,” he says.
Etukuri gives the impression that he knows this SFC soldier but refused to divulge his identity. The man, he says, ordered the ISO soldiers to return his shoes, and allowed him to make a few phone calls to inform his relatives that he was safe.
“I called my editor and wife and told them I was safe although they sensed I wasn’t. Then another man called Juuko told the operatives to buy me a mattress and give me a room where I was going to sleep. I shared this room with a man from immigration department who was also arrested,” he says.
Etukuri says, at 7:30pm, they gave him posho and beans for dinner which he refused but they forced him to eat it. After taking that food, he had a running stomach the whole night.
“We woke up at 6am and cleaned the compound. But up to morning, I didn’t know which area I was detained. I had coaches passing and sensed it was Masaka road. I bribed a soldier’s kids in the safe house, gave them money and they told me that I was in Kyengera,” he says.
“After cleaning the compound, they forced me to eat breakfast, but I refused and they handcuffed me again. They started beating me on the joints, saying I can’t refuse breakfast because it is compulsory. When that SFC man came back, he ordered them to remove the handcuffs and gave me a phone to contact my people again,” he says.
He says, he called his editor and informed him about the running stomach due to food he took and the New Vision office, sent him Shs 100,000 through mobile money which he used to buy food.
“I could send the security guard to buy food outside and they could bring me rolex [chapati and fried eggs] and water which I fed on for the whole one week I spent in that safe house,” Etukuri says.
He says they recorded him and also told him to write a statement about Tersvouri Toomajuha Petteri, a Finnish national who died under suspicious circumstances at The Pearl of Africa hotel in Kampala and indicate how I got the story. While in detention some people came and accused him of being a Rwandese spy.
“They later took me to Kaka’s office. They had given him false information that I went with the former Inspector General of Police Gen Kale Kayihura and met the Finnish man. They accused me of having a lot of information about the death of the Finnish national,” Etukuri says.
He says, after Kaka interrogating him and listening to a statement which they recorded and found they were all the same, he ordered them to return me to the safe house for more investigations.
“Meaning during that period the New Vision legal team was in court chasing for my release since there were no charges against me and many social media platforms were demanding for my release. This forced them to return me to ISO headquarters, where Kaka told me to work together with them and he gave back my phone. He ordered them to escort and return me back to New Vision. They dumped me at the office and disappeared,” he says.
Etukuri says, during his kidnap, they also came to his home and broke into his second car “looking for my laptop, but good enough it wasn’t there”.
“I was physically and mentally tortured. They harassed my family. However, I was happy with media reports about me and social media because it kept me going.
“But I felt so sorry for people who are kidnapped, tortured and kept there for months when their families are not aware and nobody can fight for them outside since the whole place is surrounded by security guards,” he says.
“I am still weak, I am feeling plain in my stomach and recently I tested poisoned. I am now on treatment,” Etukuri adds.
In July, ISO operatives arrested an MTN data engineer, Keefa Musasizi, whom they held until night.
They took him to the MTN data centre base in Mutundwe, Kampala in a bid to obtain information from call logs of suspects in the former AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi murder. He was later released.