Africa

Ugandan murder mystery: New evidence, still no clarity

Logo of the Friends New Underground Railroad

Logo of the Friends New Underground Railroad

The secretive Friends New Underground Railroad (FNUR), which claims that seven LGBT Ugandans were stoned and burned to death last month in rural Uganda, has released a statement about the reported event from one of the railroad’s unnamed “conductors” who help endangered Ugandans to reach safety abroad.

The new statement raises more questions than it answers, much like the photos that accompanied the original report of the alleged stonings and like last week’s release of a recording described as a Ugandan radio show about the stonings.

The new statement by the Friends Railroad worker, identified with the pseudonym “Katende Sam,” was heavily redacted to protect people who would be at risk if they were identified, FNUR said.

First page of the redacted statement by Sam Katende.

First page of the redacted statement by “Katende Sam.”

The redaction  process left the statement essentially useless as a tool for determining whether the incidents actually occurred, since verifiable details are omitted. Officials of the Friends Railroad apparently trust no journalist or LGBT rights organization enough to provide them even with off-the-record access to people and facts that could be used to verify the claims.

The evidence that FNUR has provided is below, accompanied by some of the unanswered questions about it.

The questions began immediately after FNUR issued a press release on Aug. 16 saying that three gay men, two lesbians and a transgender person were stoned by a mob in recent weeks. Five of them died from the stoning, while the sixth survived briefly until doused in kerosene and set on fire, FNUR said. In a separate incident at an undisclosed location elsewhere in Uganda, FNUR said, a 28-year-old gay man was attacked by another mob on Aug. 5, suffered head injuries, and died the next day.

HRAPF logo

HRAPF logo

The Kampala-based Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) sent a five-person team to the general area where FNUR reported that the six people were murdered.  The HRAPF team had been provided with little information about the alleged attacks and did not find evidence that they had occurred. (See HRAPF report.)

THE EVIDENCE

Photos

Friends Railroad distributed four photos allegedly taken of the attack on the 28-year-old gay man who was reported stoned on Aug. 5 at an undisclosed location.  A cropped version of one of the least offensive of them is below.

Unverified photo shows the allegedly gay victim of an Ugandan mob after he was reportedly stoned on Aug. 5 at an undisclosed location but before he died. (Photo courtesy of Friends New Underground Railroad)

Unverified photo shows the allegedly gay victim of an Ugandan mob after he was reportedly stoned on Aug. 5 at an undisclosed location but before he died. (Photo courtesy of Friends New Underground Railroad)

Fabricated or repurposed photos and videos are a frequent online phenomenon, such as a horrific image of a man burned beside railroad tracks, which was published repeatedly with various descriptions:

The image provided by FNUR (above) had not been published previously online, at least according to Google Image Search. However, the image comes with no further information that could be used to verify it.

One of the other FNUR photos included the image of a motorcycle’s license plate.  No report has been received of whether the owner of that motorcycle has been located and questioned.

Radio show

Friends Railroad released an audio file last week that it described as a recording of a KBS Radio show from Uganda, which it said “corroborates” the group’s earlier report of the six murders. (A rough transcript of the audio file is here. Warning: It includes a distasteful discussion of whether LGBT people should be arrested and put on trial or should simply be killed.)

In the undated recording, the unnamed host of the show, apparently called “The Council,” discusses the stonings with an “opinion leader” from the Buyende region who is named, approximately, “Mr. Vasileva.”

Vasileva refers to the deaths as an event that he has heard about rather than witnessed directly.

Date — The date of the stonings is given as Aug. 4, which had not been previously stated.

Location — The location of the stonings was given as in “a market” in the village of Itukira in the Buyende region. FNUR has repeatedly cited that location and said that it has unreleased evidence that it exists, but HRAPF’s report indicates that no such location exists.

Participants — The audio document describes the participants in the stoning as “a group of Christians” who “had a pastor from Kampala.”

Victims’ names — Five names cited in this file are similar to the names on the list of six victims that FNUR provided to HRAPF and to some journalists. The sixth name may have been on Vasileva’s tongue when the host interrupted him.  These are the differences in names — Vasileva mentioned Isaaca Marunda [rather than the “Isaac Marunda” on the FNUR list]; Amis Dhakaba [“Amir Dhakaba” on the FNUR list]; and Geoffrey Waibi [on the FNUR list, “Godfrey Waibi”].

Audio quality — The sound quality of the recording is good, far better than could have been achieved if it had been recorded over the air from a radio broadcast.

Radio station — Friends Railroad identifies the broadcast as “a KBS Radio show,” which might mean Kamuli Broadcasting Services. If so, it’s strange that the show’s host describes his guest as “coming from Kamuli” to talk about the events in Buyende.

Adrian Jjuuko, executive director of HRAPF, says that his organization contacted both Kamuli Broadcasting Services (KBS) in Kamuli and Impact FM in Kampala, which has also been named as a station that discussed the stonings. “Both denied ever airing the said bulletins. Buyende itself has no radio station,” Jjuuko said.

In an investigation about the possible veracity of the recording, BuzzFeed stated:

The Buyende region is northwest of Kampala, Uganda's capital. (Map courtesy of weather-forecast.com)

The Buyende region is northwest of Kampala, Uganda’s capital. (Map courtesy of weather-forecast.com)

“[The recording] identifies the station as KBS, Kamuli Broadcasting Services, which is based in a town in eastern Uganda just south of Buyende, the district where FNUR says the attacks took place. The person being interviewed on the program does not appear to have witnessed the attacks, but rather says he ‘heard about the homosexuals.’ He then reads a list of names and provides details on how some of the victims were said to have died.

“The station’s publicity manager, Galimaka Charles, denied that his station had ever broadcast any reports of stonings. …

“He also said they broadcast no program by the name given in the recording. ‘We do not have a program [called] “Council” on KBS.’

“Galimaka also said that he knew of no place by the name of ‘Itukira,’ repeatedly identified as the location of the stoning in the broadcast.”

Statement of FNUR worker

The statement by a Friends Railroad worker identified under the pseudonym “Katende Sam” was released yesterday in heavily redacted form on the FNUR blog.  It is also available without black blotches on this blog (but with redacted words indicated by “xxxxxx” instead).

The statement describes Katende’s upbringing and his decision to help FNUR as a “conductor” who assists endangered LGBT Ugandans seeking to leave the country. Eventually Katende’s secret rescue missions became known, at which point he and his family also had to leave the country. They are currently in Kigali, Rwanda.

FNUR officials have previously described this conductor’s account as evidence that would verify the account of six people being stoned in the Buyende region. Katende’s statement does discuss the stonings, but only as an event that he heard about second-hand.

Katende said he was contacted by an acquaintance who was worried about what might happen because “Christians had raised and were rounding up suspected gay people.”  Katende later learned the news of the reported stonings from local radio, he said.

That portion of the statement is especially heavily redacted, which makes it nearly impossible to use as a tool in verifying the account of the stonings:

Before I left Uganda, what happened in Buyende will forever haunt me. xxxxx xxxxx a xxxxx trader from xxxxx who usually goes to Buyende Animal market to purchase xxxxx and xxxxx from sell gave me a call ([man’s name] like we call him is an incloset bisexual hard working young man). He had gone to do his business with his long truck to bring animals to sell to meat dealers. He was also worried for his own life as he thought maybe they knew.

Christians had raised and were rounding up suspected gay people (not that they knew and were 100% sure that they are gay — you may realize that some of those suspected are just business competitors)

[man’s name] thought I had the authority and connections to put this office, I advised him to call police which he said he can’t because he had his own fears. Some days later, I heard from a local fm radio station that 6 suspected gay people had been killed with so much brutality in Itukira village in Buyenda.

Also other radio stations including KBS started talking about. As soon as the news broke, immediately some people started changing the story, not to damage the image of Buyenda or somebody else wasn’t just doing his or her job.

Depsite what has been said I stand by the fact that those 6 were killed and justice won’t be served because facts and details have been played around with to the excitement of the haters.

It is not clear why Katende remains unidentified even though he has reached safety in Rwanda.  On the other hand, it’s clear that the identity of the man who told Katende about the Christians “rounding up” gays needed to be withheld for his safety.

Also unclear: Why the location of the reported stoning remains in doubt, since it should be easy and safe to specify the location of Itukira, if it exists.

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