UGANDA: Terrorism detainees plan strike over delayed trials

130308100031-01-inside-gitmo-story-topSix Kenyans who were illegally removed from Kenya and taken to Uganda three years ago to stand trial for the 2010 Kampala bombings are among 12 detainees on a go-slow at the Luzira Upper Prison protesting the delay of their case that has been pending before the courts since they were formally charged in 2011.

The 12 have now served notice of their intention to go on a hunger strike beginning next Monday.

The six men who were arrested by the Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) in Nairobi and Mombasa and another Kenyan extradited from Tanzania have been in remand custody since then, awaiting hearing of a constitutional application they filed in the Ugandan Constitutional Court in September 2011 challenging their criminal trial which was then stayed to await the outcome of the application.

Together with four Ugandans and a Tanzanian the Kenyans are jointly charged with, they are now accusing the state of deliberately delaying the hearing of the petition and stonewalling to ensure their prolonged detention without trial.

In an open letter addressed to authorities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania sent out of Luzira Prison this week the detainees stated: “We have been subjected to both physical and psychological torture since our ordeal started under solitary confinement in Luzira Prison. This has not made our situation any better. Since we lodged our petition in 2011 the state has been extenuating (sic) and evasive in its obligation to grant us a fair hearing: that there was lack of quorum at the appellate court, lack of funds and citing death of judges among other reasons (sic).”

They claim that their efforts to have the hearing expedited or to be granted bail pending the determination of the cases have been frustrated by the state and the only time they had been set to appear in court for the hearing of the constitutional matter last October 17 it was called off in unclear circumstances which have not been explained to them or their lawyers to date.

They say that due to the delay and lengthy incarceration their health has deteriorated. “The medical state of some detainees is critical. They suffer from high blood pressure, chronic ulcers, hernia, failing eye sight, joint pains, kidney and liner (sic) complications to mention but a few. This has been exacerbated by the lack of specialized medical personnel or access to the same,” the letter signed by all twelve detainees says.

According to families of the detainees who visited them this week, the go-slow involves refusal to perform personal chores like exercises and games, bathing and conforming to prison routine and instead sitting in their cells all the time they are supposed to be out. This, they say, is in the lead up to the hunger strike which the detainees have informed the authorities will begin next week, if the hearing does not take place on Monday, November 25, which is yet to be confirmed but is said to be the new hearing date of the constitutional petition.

Kenyan authorities have remained mum despite High Court rulings, the findings of a parliamentary committee and pleas by the detainees and their families.

Human rights groups and the detainees have been urging the government to intercede for them with their Ugandan counterparts for either the cases to be expedited; or they are brought back to Kenya for trial or to be released altogether if there were no charges that could be sustained against them. During debate in the last parliament in 2011, the government had undertaken to meet the legal costs for their defence as part of its constitutional obligation to provide legal representation to citizens charged with capital offences. This has not happened either.

Parliament’s departmental committee on defence and foreign affairs had found in a report released last year that the Kenyans had been illegally rendered to Uganda and called for their return. Two judges of the high court had ruled in two separate cases brought up on their behalf that the renditions were illegal and that the anti-terrorism agency which had admitted having handed them over to the Ugandans had violated the constitution.

The Muslim Human Rights Forum (MHRF) has supported the detainees’ quest for justice and  the latest action and threats by the detainees to go on a hunger strike, saying they were  “acts of desperation by people brutalized by their own government through renditions to a foreign state and denied justice by the latter through prolonged detention without a speedy, fair and transparent trial”.

“These are justifiable acts of desperation. The detainees have been abandoned by their own government and subjected to lengthy disguised detention-without-trial by the other. The delays are deliberately executed by the state in the absence of evidence to sustain prosecution,” commented MHRF’s chair Al-Amin Kimathi who had himself been detained with the twelve for one year after he had gone to monitor the proceedings in the lower court in September 2010.

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