If there are murder incidents that shook the conscience of the people of Teso Sub-region, the extra-judicial killing of Dr Samuel Emunyeret’s features high up.
On April 22, 2014, Emunyeret and his family were tending their garden in Kachede village in Malera Sub-county, Bukedea District. Suddenly, a group of attackers brandishing machetes advanced menacingly toward them, before pouncing on the family members.
They hacked Dr Emunyeret, 46, and a father of 11, on the head multiple times. He collapsed and a mixture of blood and brain matter flowed on the side of his riven head.
His sister Stella Oluka with whom he was in the garden alongside her two children was hewed. Stella later died in hospital two days later and the children who survived remain deformed to this day. The terror machine in Teso has, however, not spared his two wives and sister who have since abandoned Emunyeret’s family home as threats keep piling.
Their gruesome killings were allegedly planned by and executed on the orders of senior army officers and politicians from Teso sub-region, but disguised as a spontaneous bloodshed arising out of a land ownership wrangle. The wheels of justice continue to roll slower than the sail of impunity.
On November 14, 2014, former Lands minister Daudi Migereko, writing at the time as government’s chief whip, noted that: “Reference is made to the debate in Parliament on November 11, 2014, where Hon Alaso Alice, the Women MP, Serere District, raised concern to the effect that the Teso sub-region has been characterised by many murders since the beginning of 2014.”
Ms Alaso had told the House, according to the Hansard, that the media “(were)systematically reporting on these murders, including continuous targeting and threatening of relatives and friends of the murdered victims who attempt to follow up with police, other security agencies and NGOs who facilitate justice.”
In the submissions on the floor of Parliament, Ms Alaso cited two glaring incidents; the grisly chopping to death of Dr Emunyeret and injuring of two of his children during the April 22, 2014 attack.
When relatives of the latter tried to follow up the matter with police, with the assistance of the local human rights group, Soroti Development Association and NGOs Network or Sodann, they together with officials of the NGO were endangered.
After repeated death threats – some boldly through phone short text messages -and office break-ins, Sodann chief executive, Moses Omiat, said it became unbearable for them to continue to work except from outside Teso sub-region.
Those risks, he said, subsist to-date with himself as a prime target through a suspicious boiling attempt to grab their family land.
He believes they got in trouble for documenting the under-reported grotesque rights violations and extra-judicial killings in the sub-region and putting names to possible masterminds.
When Ms Alaso tabled the matter in Parliament, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga directed the Internal Affairs minister to institute an inquiry into the spate of killings, many linked to political rivalry and wayward security agents’ behaviour.
Dr Emunyeret’s sister, Sarah Asekenye, who teaches at Moroto Child Nursery and Primary School, said in an interview for this article that: “We used to hear stories that a Colonel (name withheld for legal reasons) was planning to kill doctor (Emunyeret). The rumours were so serious that he approached the leader of that army officer’s clan and the old man assured him all was well.”
The doctor, who plied his trade at Butebo Health Centre in Pallisa District, was eventually hacked that morning as he tended his garden by four men who claimed he was occupying their land.
There is no case either filed prior with police or local council offices regarding ownership conflict over the parcel of land where the doctor was murdered.
One neighbour, who requested to speak on condition of anonymity to avoid falling victim of a “mafia-ring”, told this newspaper that “we had never heard of anyone quarrelling over that land. That was just a cover up.”
It is the same situation in which Sodann’s Omiat finds himself in today. Some people have intentionally encroached on their ancestral family land, claiming they grabbed it.
On May 7, 2014, the NGO he heads was raided at around 3pm. Earlier, one of the organisation’s staff was put at gunpoint to disclose the whereabouts of chief executive Omiat and another employee, Ms Monica Apilo, both of whom were in a meeting nearby.
That was a flee signal for Mr Omiat and colleagues, who now live like fugitives, avoiding telephones calls on numbers unknown to them.
The then deputy Soroti Resident District Commissioner, Mr Isaac Lulaba, said in 2014 of the threats to Sodann that: “These staff are being trailed using their phones and other forms of communication gadgets to locate them, making it complicated but also risky.”
The break-in into their offices began in November 2013.
Our investigations show that land wrangle is unlikely the cause of Mr Omiat’s tribulations as was improbable for killing Dr Emunyeret.
After he was hacked, one of the four men whose clothes were splattered with blood dashed to the home of a local area councillor and obtained substitute garments he wore before handing himself to the police.
The other three reportedly admitted committing a crime most foul. Police had been reluctant to arrest and incarcerate them. Four suspects are currently held at Soroti Prison and the quartet last appeared in court in October 2015.
Mr Asekenye, the deceased’s sister, says “the police rushed to protect the homes of the (suspected) murderers and transferred property from their homes to that of the same local council official. The victim’s family was ignored”.
Police officers at Kachumbala police post who this newspaper approached for a comment declined to speak on the matter.
Ivan Emunyeret, then a 17-year-old boy, son of late Dr Emunyeret, and Ms Sylvia Atai at the time 26, were following the attack admitted to Kumi hospital where two strangers, armed with machetes concealed in a bag, attempted to gain entry into their ward at night in what appeared a calculated move to finish them off and deprive investigators of the evidence of witness accounts.
The hospital staff moved in and thwarted a continuation of this wipe out mission. Today, Ms Atai limps with a paralysed right hand without two fingers severed during that attack.
When Ms Asekenye took the matter up with the authorities, one senior officer, one Acaye at Soroti Central Police Station, reportedly told her that “‘you know the people who killed your brother. If you keep saying police is covering up we shall deal with you”.
That is after she had reminded this officer that information had leaked in which a plot to kill Dr Emunyeret was finalised on April 21, 2014 and when reported, police did nothing to prevent it – and the doctor was brutally killed.
“He (police officer) told me my brother was a big problem. That he was a land grabber and had grabbed all sub-county land. When he said this I knew the cover up was now complete,” Ms Asekenye said.
Seeing no light at the end of the tunnel of this investigation, Dr Emunyeret’s family sought help from Sodann which suffered an attack at their offices in Soroti Town days after it took up the matter. This newspaper has seen documents in which the burglary at the NGO was reported to police who chose not to act. It is the plight of this human rights organisation that then Government Chief Whip Migereko reminded the Internal Affairs ministry to investigate alongside the unresolved spate of grisly killings.
There is an intriguing connection between the UPDF Colonel named in connection with the murder and the men who hacked the doctor. Sources in security from Teso sub-region, who asked not to be named due to sensitivity of the matter, claim the four attackers are nephews of the senior army officer who tried to ‘kill the case’ at the level of investigations.
One of Dr Emunyeret’s in-laws, a resident district commissioner formerly in one of the Teso districts, who pushed for a thorough probe into the murder, sent Ms Asekenye a phone short text message around Christmas which read: “My sister, I am sorry I cannot follow up this case anymore. This man (the army officer) keeps calling me and I am threatened now.”
The then deputy RDC requested this newspaper not to reveal his identity for personal safety reasons, but admitted receiving the warning.
“We foresee more deaths as they are still hunting for us. If they can follow our relatives to the hospital, what of when we are out?” the relative asked. Her fear is not far-fetched.
When this newspaper contacted two of Emunyeret’s wives for an interview, they declined the same way Ms Asekenye initially did over three days.
Family set apart
This newspaper established that because fear was palpable among family members, the district education office relocated one of Dr Emunyeret’s widows to teach at Moroto Army Primary School. Unlike the civilian school where she was, the army school offers a sense of physical security with soldiers visible.
The second wife, Ms Sabano moved back to stay with her parents in Pallisa, abandoning their former marital home where now only their septuagenarian mother-in-law Margaret Apio lives a forlorn life.
In the fourth installment of our series, Blood, Guns and Politics in Teso, read in tomorrow’s edition how a boy arrested over alleged defilement was killed in police cell.
What doctor’s sister says…
“My name is Sarah Asekenye, From Kachede Village, Kachede Parish, Malera Sub-county in Bukedea District. I am the sister of murdered Dr Samuel Patrick Emunyeret. In 2012, Dr Emunyeret began hearing rumours that a Colonel (name withheld) in the UPDF was going to kill him. He took trouble to meet the clan leaders of the UPDF officer but nothing changed. There were many meetings that were conducted in at district level, DPC and some at the Galaxy Lodge. But the threats continued.
On 22, April, 2014, early in the morning, Dr Emunyeret, ,my sister Stella Oluka, Gorreti Atai and Ivan went to the garden with intention of planting crops. As they were still in the garden, they saw three men (names withheld) coming with pangas.
The men surrounded them and started cutting them. Dr and the children tried to escape but the killers had a gun.
After killing, one reported to police and the three homes of the murders were guarded by police. We tried to report the case to Bukedea police and Kyoga regional CID but the RPC said my brother was a wrong man who had grabbed people’s land.
One police officer told me that it was very hard to get help from local police because of the people involved.
That police officer led us to Soroti Development Association & NGOs Network- Sodann but again Sodann people had left Soroti and the police officer had to lead us to Kampala where we meet Sodann officials. Sodann helped us petition Parliament and Hon Kadaga directed that police gives us protection but police did not.
We are now scattered overall the country. Three murderers (suspects) applied for bail on March 7, which was postponed on March 15, and one James Odongo was given bail although the State attorney opposed it basing on the weight of the case.
I raised my hand and protested bail because it is unfair for judge to grant bail yet police has failed to give us protection.
THE ISSUES AT HAND
Business. On April 22, 2014, Dr Samuel Emunyeret and family were tending their garden in Kachede village in Malera Sub-county, Bukedea District.
Attack. Suddenly, a group of attackers brandishing machetes advanced menacingly toward them, before pouncing on the family members. They hacked Dr Emunyeret, 46, and a father of 11, on the head multiple times. His sister, Stella died two days later.
Arrests. Four suspects are currently held at Soroti Prison and the quartet last appeared in court in October 2015.