Uganda: Nakasongola Prison a No Go for Anne Mugisha, Olara Otunnu

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Anne Mugisha and Olara Otunnu's attempt to see Norbert Mao and Kizza Besigye today was unsuccessful.

Uganda's 'Walk to Work' protests are making global headlines, and the Ugandan government is cracking down, jailing opposition leaders, intimidating citizens and tightening controls over media and internet – but Uganda's opposition appears determined.

This morning, police blocked Olara Otunnu, President of the Uganda Peoples Congress and Anne Mugisha, a Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party official, from visiting jailed opposition leaders Norbert Mao and Kizza Besigye.

Besigye (president of the Forum for Democratic Change) and Mao (president of the Democratic Party) have been in prison since last week, arrested during their participation in the ongoing “walk to work” protests.

Besigye appears in court tomorrow – many are speculating that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will make good on threats to charge him with treason, as reported by Ugandan media.

'Orders from Above'

When Mugisha and Otunnu first arrived at Nakasongola Prison, officials told them that due to the public holiday they’d need to produce a letter from the Commissioner General of Police in order to be granted access to the imprisoned leaders.

Speaking to the Black Star News by phone from Kampala on Monday afternoon, Mugisha detailed the nearly three-hour ordeal with the prison officials.

Mugisha told the Black Star that following the initial denial of access by the first prison officer, Otunnu persisted and asked to speak with the officer’s supervisor.

Several hours later, the supervisor eventually emerged to talk to them, but he also denied them access – and eventually ordered them to leave prison grounds.

Mugisha says prison officials seemed to be getting directions from an outside source.

“The officer, as he was talking to us, he would pause and go back and talk on the phone” Mugisha explained.

Mugisha said the security officers appeared to be under a lot of pressure: “They are working under a lot of fear – the officer in charge is not really in charge, because he is getting orders from someone else – whom we do not know.”

Mugisha said there was an increase in the number of officers as their standoff continued.

“I think the most scary thing of all was that they refused to identify themselves” she said.

“We had three sets of security forces, and as we continued to resist and say that we wanted to see them, the guys who were wearing camouflage started increasing.”

Despite being turned away today, Mugisha says she will return on Tuesday and try again.

Walking for Change

An active member of Activists for Change (A4C), the pressure group organizing the 'Walk to Work' protests, Mugisha says the group has multiple purposes.

“Our immediate objective is to really shine a light on the people of Uganda who are undergoing a lot of challenges due to the current economic situation in Uganda and the headlining inflation caused by both local and international factors” Mugisha told the Black Star.

The group’s second objective, according to Mugisha, is to "juxtapose" the economic crisis in Uganda "against the exorbitant expenditure of the state."

She highlights the recent  $740 million dollar purchase of Russian fighter jets and the $350 million spent during Museveni’s reelection campaign in questioning the country’s priorities.

“One-quarter, and I mean one-quarter, of the national budget was spent on buying the jet fighters, ostensibly to protect our oil reserves. This, in a country that is not producing oil!” Mugisha noted.

A4C’s third aim is to reveal the “brutality and violence” she says is rampant in Uganda. “Another objective is just to expose the brutality of the state and to show the violence of this police state.”

As evidenced by the world coverage of the brutal crackdown on “walk to work” demonstrators the violence of the state has been exposed, but what will it take to stop it?

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