KAMPALA – The arrest, detention and subsequent threats of deportation of a Ugandan Blogger, Fred Lumbuye, in Turkey has sent shivers in the veins of human rights defenders. Fred Lumbuye, a well-known blogger, social media activist and critic of Museveni’s government was allegedly arrested in Turkey and discreetly deported to Uganda. Lumbuye is a critic who uses his social media accounts to express what he feels about his country Uganda.
Lumbuye has been on Ugandan wanted list since July this year until he was “kidnapped” and or arrested by Turkish security on a tip from Uganda’s under cover security agents. Sources in Turkey claim that Lumbuye was placed under custody towards the weekend and was due for extradition to Uganda for not having proper documents to enable him live and work in Turkey.
Since the news of Lumbuye’s arrest, Ugandans in the diaspora have voiced their fears and called upon the Turkish government and United Nations to block his planned deportation to Uganda as they will be exposing him to danger like it was in the case of Kashogi. There is no doubt Lumbuye was self exiled in Turkey as a political dissident. Article 3 of the Interpol Constitution strictly forbids Interpol from undertaking any intervention on matters or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character. Fortunately, Lumbuye falls in the category listed above and I hope they will respect that position.
However, if they insist as it has been claimed, the Turkish Government should be forced to produce evidence submitted to Interpol seeking Lumbuye’s extradition or else they are in breach of International law. I do not know of any treaty signed between the two countries to help the other go after those on each other’s wanted list. According to Interpol processes, the country seeking extradition of the suspect said to be abroad must first seek a court order in their country and then apply for Interpol’s help to find the accused. It is not the first time security agencies are going after Ugandans on allegations of offensive communication.
It is apparent that communication only becomes offensive if it is against the sitting Government. There is no doubt our current government has so many bloggers blowing its trumpet but those are safe so long as they are working for government. Indeed many critical bloggers have been bought out or silenced forcefully. However, security agencies have found it hard to deal with critical Ugandans who attack the government from abroad. So in most cases, they simply place a red tape at the immigration and only pray for their return in order to cause their arrest.
The international community should not sit back and watch and even help Uganda to stampede human rights and fundamental rights such as freedom of expression. It is on record that in the late 2018, a one Kato Kajubi was arrested at Entebbe International Airport as he returned from the America. Police accused him and others still at large of offensive communication and tarnishing Uganda’s image abroad by holding protests in the various state of America against the Constitution amendment to the presidential age limits. I wonder of the government is expecting everyone to agree with everything it does in the current multiparty dispensation.
One of the accusations is that Fred Lumbuye has been using social media like youtube and Facebook to declare prominent people dead including President Museveni and the Kabaka of Buganda. In the case of Kabaka Mutebi, Lumbuye claimed he had been poisoned adding that the kingdom Prime Minister Charles Peter Mayiga had blocked him from seeking treatment abroad. Both Museveni and the Kabaka have since come out to attend public functions clearly proving they are still alive. Lumbuye is also accused of providing accurate information about persons in Uganda who are on the hit list to be assassinated.
What is disturbing is that no one has come out clearly to mention or name the crimes that Lumbuye has committed and where he committed them from. Security has not even provided a court order to the public in which they were directed to arrest Lumbuye. I find the claim that he has been promoting sectarianism farfetched. With the state of affairs as they are, I don’t think it is wise to extradite Lumbuye let alone trying him in our semi independent courts.
The trend of events has even left more confusion, some say Lumbuye was arrested at his apartment, others say he had gone to renew his passport at the Uganda Embassy while others say he had lost his passport and had gone for a replacement. Other say he was betrayed by some members of the National Unity platform.
If extradited to Uganda, Lumbuye will be an obvious candidate for torture in order to extract information from him forcefully. This will be followed by denying him bail on ground that he does not have substantial sureties or he does not have a permanent place of aboard. And if granted bail, they will ask him to surrender a land title in his names which he does not have and in the alternative they will re-arrest for some other bogus charges to inconvenience him. There is no safe haven for Lumbuye anywhere in Uganda, not even in Prison or police custody. The International community should consider allowing Lumbuye to enter any of the European countries for protection, I recommend Germany or Netherlands.
We in Uganda are aware that Turkey is one of the countries that are eying our oil. Chances are that they may be or may have been tempted to aid the deportation and sacrifice Lumbuye in order to increase their chances of securing some deals. Turkey is one of those Countries with an image to protect on the international scene but stooping so law for oil will be a serious betrayal of international laws and media freedoms which they stand for.
The fact that Lumbuye has not communicated since Tuesday when he was allegedly arrested which act I prefer to call a kidnap means he has been deprived of his freedom. However, if Lumbuye is already in Uganda and kept in some jail, there will be more questions than answers for both Turkey and Uganda. Will Turkey claim that they were not aware of the arrest and deportation or they will confirm the deportation on the basis that Lumbuye had not declared himself an asylum seeker and could not be allowed to stay on expired documents?
When all is said and done, there is a million dollar question, why did or why has the Government picked so much interest in hunting down an unarmed boy whose only weapon is his mouth yet they have failed to go after the likes of Joseph Kony and the ADF rebels. What is so special about Lumbuye, was he working for them in a disguised manner, do they want him to send a thread of fear in other bloggers or they want to use him to diffuse the opposition?
How can you hunt somebody down because he has said you are dead when in actual sense you are still alive? Do we fear death to the extent of being hurt when somebody declares us dead, what is wrong with dying? If Lumbuye’s statements created fear, what is important is that eventually, Museveni and the Kabaka came out for the public to see as proof that they were still alive and not dead but guess what, its Lumbuye to thank for mounting pressure which eventually ended speculation of their death.
I still retaliate that deporting Lumbuye to Uganda under the current circumstances is going to raise a red flag on press freedom. Just like the corona virus which is a permanent visitor, African Governments must learn to co-exist with the digital age and so is digital journalism. Soon, print media will be no more like it is with the post office but Ugandans must continue having access to information and it is up to them to sieve its accuracy. Gagging the digital press will only teach bloggers to hide their identity like it was with those behind the website Ugandans at heart.
I still insist that Lumbuye’s arrest is a very dangerous precedent and is no opportunity to celebrate. When it was happening elsewhere, we took it lightly like the proverbial ostrich but it’s a reality that we must face with boldness. Governments all over have lately come up in arms against social media for reasons that they do not want the international community to know about their misdeeds. Having gagged the traditional media houses like the print media, radio and TV, countries like Tanzania during the reign of Magufuli, Rwanda, Nigeria, Senegal, Chad, the Republic of Congo, Cameroon and many others thought it was time to breath. That is why many have come up with legislations to gag social media platforms; some have even banned its use in order to leave the public in the dark. Sadly, those who shower the government with praises on the same platforms are left to enjoy their space.
In this current Uganda, you cannot trust anyone for what they say or do, Lumbuye is no exception. If the news of Lumbuye’s arrest is not diversionary to cover current affairs in Uganda, there is a missing link especially that the state minister of foreign affairs had announced that Lumbuye would be in Uganda by Saturday morning. If Lumbuye is not talking, he is not in Turkey and is not in Uganda, where is he? Was he secretly extradited back to Uganda or the international community blocked the move? Was Lumbuye an NRM Mole strategically planted as a member of the opposition in order to implicate members of National Unity Platform?
Already, Kampala Central Member of Parliament Muhammad Nsereko featuring on Face book claimed that Lumbuye has always been sponsored by the National Unity Platform (NUP) led by Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine. Nsereko said the NUP top leadership has always been silent whenever Lumbuye attacked anyone including Mengo and other opposition figures who don’t belong to NUP. It appears this movie is just starting and the main actor is poised to die before the movie ends, it is only the stupid viewers that will remain seated in the theatre hoping that the main actor will resurrect at the end of the movie.
Roger Wadada Musaalo is a Lawyer, human rights activist, researcher, and politician