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Family demands return of Mohammed Hamid Suleiman detained in Uganda
Daily Nation
Saturday, May 25, 2013

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Watching news clips of the shooting of terror suspect Felix Nyangaga Otuko and his expectant wife earlier this week, Ms Zainab Suleiman had every reason to be grateful.

Her son, also a terror suspect, was spared such a bloody end when police raided his home over the 2010 Kampala bombing.

Had things gone differently, he might have gone the Otuko and his wife way.

The two were cut down by police after an eight-hour battle in Nairobi’s Githurai Kimbo area last Sunday.

Instead, Mohammed Hamid Suleiman is locked up behind bars abroad waiting for the law to take its course.

This knowledge offers only brief consolation for the woman whose second-born son is one of several Kenyan nationals wasting away in a foreign jail as “terror suspects”.

Court’s verdict

“We cannot guess how long the case against him will take or what the court’s verdict will be,” Zainab says.

“We do not know if we will ever see him back in Kenya. This is to me the worst form of psychological torture.”

Hamid, 40, is among 12 suspects facing trial in Uganda in connection with the July 11, 2010 twin suicide bombing that claimed 75 lives and left dozens injured in Kampala.

The father of four was surrendered to Ugandan authority by Kenyan Government alongside six other others while an eighth suspect was transferred across the border from Tanzania between July 2010 and June 2011.

Alongside four Ugandans and one Tanzanian, they were each charged with three counts of terrorism, 75 counts of murder and nine counts of attempted murder and all pleaded not guilty.

In late 2011, the Kenyans, together with the Tanzanian, petitioned the Constitutional Court in Kampala to dismiss their criminal case arguing that they were illegally surrendered to Uganda, were subjected to various human rights abuses and that any criminal trial would be unconstitutional since two of them were coerced to make confessions.

But the petition is still pending due to lack of quorum in the court as some judges who have since retired are yet to be replaced. This has resulted in a period of utter agony for the suspects and their families.

The suspects are now spending the third year in remand at Kampala’s notorious Luzira Upper Prison, now known among human rights activists as ‘East Africa’s Guantanamo Bay’.

“I have personally visited Uganda’s Chief Justice and Director of Public Prosecutions to know what is happening,” says Zainab.

“The Chief Justice explained that there are vacancies in the court and he is awaiting judges to be appointed.”

Relatives of the suspects visit them once every month in what Zainab terms a torturous and pocket-draining experience.

“We used to visit Hamid and his colleagues every month, but we now do it in shifts due to the high expenses involved in the three-day visit,” she notes. “In the first few months after their arrest, they were very weak and sickly. It was also hard for us as we were subjected to countless embarrassing searches.”

The 60-year-old says the whole experience has been a nightmare to the family due to hostility from Kenyan and Ugandan authorities

Traumatising moment

“At times, we had plain-clothes police officers from Kenya trying to secretly follow us all the way to Kampala and back,” she says. “Others used to spend the night around my houses. It was so traumatising.”

But she says all this has changed in recent days as police officers are now friendly and allow whoever visits to see all the suspects collectively.

“They are also allowed to talk to us over the phone on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” she says.

Mr Al-Amin Kimathi, the chairman of the Muslim Human Rights Forum (MHRF), says despite the seven Kenyans being illegally renditioned to Uganda, as confirmed by two High Court judges, all efforts to have the case back on track, and to have the suspects tried at home, have failed.

In a letter dated November 14, 2011, MHRF appealed to the Kenyan Government through then Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula, to urgently petition the Uganda government to return them to Kenya.

“The choice of rendition rather than extradition of Kenyan nationals to Uganda raises many questions about the credibility of the case against them,” he wrote, noting that Kenya had the legal backing to try the Luzira Seven locally. But the letter, which was copied to the Office of the President, the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Commissioner of Police among others, remains unanswered to date.

In 2010, when he went to Uganda to monitor the trial, Mr Kimathi was detained and charged with the same offences as his clients. The charges were dropped one year later, and he and a colleague set free.

Lawyer detained

Mr Mbugua Mureithi, a lawyer also detained for five days before being deported for offering legal assistance to the suspects in 2010, says the Luzira Seven might languish in foreign custody indefinitely unless there is high-level political intervention.

“They are currently at the mercy of Uganda and other foreign governments,” he says.

“They can’t even be represented by counsel of choice. The Ugandans tampered with my passport by putting a cross on one of my visa pages.

The police told me I would be killed if I ever set foot in Uganda again. Another lawyer, Clara Gutteridge, was denied entry to Uganda.” Mbugua now only serves as advisor to suspects’ defence team. Zainab, who fends Hamid’s four children and jobless wife, says she will never give up hope of seeing her son free, and in Kenya.

“The case should be in Kenya not Uganda. Whether they are guilty or not, they should be brought back home as the court ruled. The case should also be fast-tracked to spare us all this anxiety,” she notes.

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