Tortured and left to rot in a prison latrine, inmate loses leg
Aloysius Wasswa's a harrowing ordeal like no other. Even with his leg rotting, he was denied treatment and continued to be tortured by an obstinate prison warden. In the end, he had to travel 180km from Kakumiro District to Kampala to save his life, but not his leg...
TORTURE | Until April 8, 2018, Aloysius Wasswa walked without any support. What happened before this day is something he will live to forget for the rest of his life. The nightmares of the torture he went through and the brush he had with death while on remand in a government prison are his bed-mates.
Today, Wasswa walks with the aid of crutches. His arms hurt. His amputated leg aches as he tries to adjust to life with his new walking aid.
The horrifying ordeal of Wasswa, 21, was first published by Stories for Human Rights and Social Inclusion, an advocacy group, on Monday. The article details the ordeal of the inmate at the hands of authorities at Kyabisenge Government Prison in flung western district of Kakumiro.
Where it all began
Wasswa’s troubles started in April 8 when he was arrested by police officers in Kisita Town Council in Kakumiro District in western Uganda. Kisita is 180km west of Kampala. His paternal uncle had accused Aloysius and another young man of stealing his pig, a claim Wasswa denies.
After spending two days at Kakumiro Police Station, he was arraigned before the Grade I Magistrates Court where he pleaded not guilty to the charges. The magistrate remanded him to Kyabisenge Prison until May 10, 2018. It was his first time to be imprisoned.
As a first timer in a prison facility, the first reality that struck Wasswa was the congestion at Kyabisenge Prison. Like it’s the situation in most Ugandan prisons, Wasswa and his fellow inmates slept on the cold floor, most times without blankets. The inmates sat facing each other, their knees propped up to their chests. They fell asleep in that position.
“There wasn’t room to lie down in the prison cell,” Wasswa explains.
Torture at Kyabisenge prison
Within his first week in prison, Wasswa got infected with dysentery. Even then, he and other prisoners were subjected to hard labour on farmlands belonging to the prisons or private individuals.
When Wasswa complained that he was sick, he was given pain killers and told to continue working on the farm. The Officer in-Charge of Prison (OC) told him that he was not jailed to eat free food.
The following week, Wasswa felt weak on account of the dysentery. He told the prison warder about his condition, explaining that he was unable to continue digging. The warder would not hear of it. So Wasswa gathered the little energy he had and continued to dig in the farm but his pace was slower.
Soon, he was several metres behind his fellow inmates. He sat down to catch his breath and gather a little more energy. The leader of prisoners, also known as Katikkiro (prime minister in local Luganda dialect), noticed him sitting and accused him of planning to escape. His explanation that he was sick enraged the Katikkiro who began hitting him on the back and head with a baton. Wasswa bled from the head and fell unconscious.
In Ugandan prisons, the Katikkiro is a revered inmate. He has powers almost equal to those of a prison warden. The Katikkiro decides which inmate gets punished and his word goes unquestioned by fellow prisoners. He is the most feared prisoner.
Seeing that Wasswa had lost consciousness, the Katikkiro reported to the OC that he had punished the inmate after he tried to escape. The of OC Kyabisenge Prison, Ferdinand Beka, took the Katikkiro’s word and gathered canes to inflict more pain on Wasswa.
“That evening, OC Beka began beating me mercilessly on the arms, legs, ankles and back. My cries were in vain,” Wasswa says.
Beka said by beating Wasswa, he was sending a warning to other inmates who might think of trying an escape.
“When the canes wore out, Beka ordered for a hoe handle and continued to beat me on the ankle, joints and feet. I had never felt so much pain in my life,” Wasswa narrates.
The Prohibition and Prevention of Torture Act, 2012, criminalises torture but the vice continues especially against those arrested by Uganda’s security forces.
Following the beatings, Wasswa could neither stand nor crawl. He was bleeding profusely from both legs.
“The OC had ordered that I be tied up before he started beating me up. He only stopped when some inmates and prison warders who were watching this torture began shouting that ‘he is going to die,’” he recalls.
“At that moment, Beka ordered the prison warder to give him a gun, which he used to shoot me in the right foot and left leg as ‘evidence’ that I was shot while I tried to escape.”
But the OC was not done with Wasswa yet. He picked up broken pieces of the canes and used them to poke the bullet wound on his leg before rubbing bullet shells on it.
“It was so painful,” he says.
Later, Beka asked some prisoners to put Wassswa in a sisal sack, legs-fast. He was then placed in a polythene bag so that his blood wouldn’t stain the OC’s car that was being used to take the inmate to Kakumiro Health Centre IV.
“Beka then asked me if he should call my wife. I said yes. When my wife came, she was overwhelmed by my condition and quickly left to inform my mother. When my mother arrived at the health Centre, Beka, who was with two prison officers, irritably told my mother that if my dad doesn’t arrive in 30 minutes, he would take me back to the prison,” Wasswa says.
Fortunately, Wasswa’s father, Zakaria Ssekyanzi Ssalongo, arrived before Beka’s deadline. The health workers subsequently told him Wasswa needed urgent blood transfusion since he was losing a lot of blood.
The health workers at Kakumiro asked Ssekyanzi to procure blood from a nearby hospital. However, when he brought the blood, Beka said it was time up for the prisoner to be in hospital.
Ssekyanzi asked him to leave if he wanted to, but not with his son. He proposed that Beka should allow two of the prison warders to guard Wasswa if he was worried that he would ran away. Beka refused, saying he did not have officers to guard sick prisoners.
He ordered his men to carry Wasswa back into the car. They drove off, leaving behind a father who couldn’t understand why a prison officer who had tortured his son, would deny him a blood transfusion.
Dumped in a pit-latrine
Back at the prison, Wasswa was dumped in a pit-latrine and locked up. The OC said he would stain the other inmates with his blood if he was taken back to the holding cell.
In the morning, Aloysius was removed from the toilet and beaten again.
“This time, the beatings were directly on the wounds.”
One of the prison warders got concerned about the torture of Wasswa and secretly called his father, urging him to immediately come and take his son to hospital otherwise he would find him dead. However, upon arrival at Kyabisenge Prison, Ferdinand told Ssekyanzi that it was not a visitation day.
Ssekyanzi asked why his son was being mistreated to which Beka said Wasswa had tried to escape from prison and he was beaten by a village mob. Ssekyanzi did not believe the explanation.
“I told him if it was a village mob who beat my son, they would not beat him like that.”
Beka got annoyed that Ssekyanzi was challenging his word and ordered him to leave the prison gate. He refused. He then threatened to shoot the old man.
“I told him to go ahead and shoot me. He cocked the gun but another prison warder took the gun away,” Ssekyanzi explains.
Realising that Ssekyanzi was not going back down, they brought his son.
“On seeing him, his condition made me break down.”
Even then, Beka wasn’t moved. He told Ssekyanzi, “if you want to treat your son, bring money.”
Ssekyanzi forked Shs30,000 for transporting Wasswa, an allowance for Beka and a prison warder.
When they arrived at Kakumiro Health Centre IV, the health workers refused to handle him, arguing that his condition had worsened. They gave them a referral letter to Mubende Regional Referral Hospital. However, Beka said they needed a letter from Kyabisenge Prison referring Aloysius to Kaweri Prison in Mubende District which would then refer him to Mubende Regional Referral Hospital.
Even with a rebuke from the health workers at Kakumiro health centre, Ferdinand didn’t budge. “We again had to go to Kyabisenge Prison to get a referral letter,” Ssekyanzi says.
Ssekyanzi also secured an ambulance to Mubende Hospital. However, upon reaching the hospital, health workers fled from Wasswa. He was stinking. They later tried to treat him but realized that they couldn’t manage his case.
The hospital then referred Wasswa to National Referral Hospital, Mulago, in Kampala. However, the Regional Prisons Officer said they would not take Wasswa to Mulago but to Murchison Bay hospital in Luzira prison.
Instead of putting Wasswa in the ambulance that Ssekyanzi had secured, the prison officers put him in a prisons double cabin pick-up.
“A doctor at Mubende advised me to carry Aloysius on my laps otherwise he would not arrive in Kampala alive,” Ssekyanzi narrates.
The doctor was on phone with Zakaria throughout the journey, instructing him on how to change the intravenous (IV) drip treatment being administered to his son.
As the pick-up truck pulled up at the gate of Luzira prison, Ssekyanzi was asked to get out. He was left stranded at the prison gate as Wasswa was driven inside Luzira prison.
The next morning, he was not allowed to see his ill son. So he went to the office of the Commissioner General of Uganda Prisons Service, hoping to get clearance to see his son. One of the prison officers who works in the office of the Commissioner asked him to forgive Ferdinand who at about the same time had sent Ssekyanzi Shs100, 000.
“He then called me claiming that he had been asked to send me that money. I was broke, so I withdrew the money and used it for my son’s treatment,” Ssekyanzi says.
Aloysius fights for his life
After trying for days to get access to his son at the prisons hospital in Luzira without success, Ssekyanzi returned to Kakumiro.
“I had to return to Kakumiro to get a letter that recommends me to see my sick son in Murchison Bay,” he explains.
Upon returning to Luzira, Ssekyanzi discovered that Wasswa had not been receiving proper medical attention. He had only been taken to Mengo Hospital for X-ray.
“I got annoyed. Out of frustration, I returned to Kakumiro,” he says.
Much later, he got a call from a prisons officer at Murchison Bay, telling him to go to Mulago Hospital for his son. “When I reached Mulago Hospital, I found my son in a worse condition. He had been dropped in the accident ward. His legs and stomach were smelling so badly. Patients in the ward were complaining of the stench. We were forced to leave that ward.”
An scan on Wasswa’s legs came with bad news. The legs had to be amputated. Ssekyanzi couldn’t afford it.
“I asked the doctors to at least save one leg. Later, Wasswa;s leg was amputated. He lost his left leg.”
On June 16, Wasswa left Mulago Hospital and was returned to Murchison Bay in Luzira Prison. The battle to have his son transferred to the Magistrates Court in Kakumiro soon begun and with the help of lawyers from Chapter Four Uganda, Ssekyanzi secured this transfer.
When Wasswa was transferred to Kakumiro, he was again jailed at Kyabisenge Prison.
“While here, the inmates would still mistreat and hurt me by deliberately stepping on the limb that was amputated,” says Wasswa.
After spending a week in Kyabisenke Prison, Wasswa was arraigned before court again and the magistrate granted him bail for a month.
Despite his son’s temporary release, Ssekyanzi is not happy that his tormentor Beka has neither been arrested nor made to record a statement with police.
“The prisons authorities lied to me that he was on suspension, only to hear that he was transferred to another place,” says Ssekyanzi .
“Instead, some prison officers are advising my son to plead guilty to the charges of attempting to escape from prison so that he can be jailed for two months and he is set free,” he says.
When inmates turn against each other
Torture in prisons manifests in many ways, sometimes prisoners assault new prisoners. Wasswa said each Wednesday, they would be beaten by fellow prisoners.
“We would be made to drink water from a pond, the same water we had used to bathe in,” says Wasswa.
At other times, prison warders and officers, beat up inmates or order inmates to do so against each other.
In 2011, Human Rights Watch published an 80-page report detailing incidents of torture in Uganda Prisons. The report said Uganda’s inmates endure congestion in cells, sometimes sleep hungry, sleep in turns on bare floors while covered with lice-infested blankets. The report also details how inmates must work in farms all day as fellow prisoners called Katikiro, whip them if they pause, complain of sickness, or are too weak to work.
Last year, Uganda Prisons Service Commissioner General, Johnson Byabashaija, warned prison wardens against torturing inmates, arguing that culprits would be prosecuted individually.
Following Aloysius’ torture, Dr Byabashaija told the press that Ferdinand had been sent on a month’s leave to pave way for investigations into the torture of inmates at Kyabisenge Prison.
As Wasswa awaits the day of his court appearance, Beka is said to be on duty, holding the same office he abused to torture an inmate. WasswaHe is trying to cope with his new life with a crutch, and wonders what the future holds for his three-year-old son who is supposed to start school soon.
He hopes that one day, justice will be served.
The original version of this article published by Stories for Human Rights and Social Justice can be read here