The trial of Bernhard Glaser, a European man accused of defiling girls under his care in the island district of Kalangala has taken a new twist.
Civil society organisations (CSO) under the Kalangala district NGO forum (KADINGO) have accused investigating police officers of trying to extract forced confessions from the girls pinning Glaser. The Observer understands that some of the girls under Glaser's care have accused police officers of harassment during their two-week detention at separate facilities in Kampala.
Last December, police raided Glaser's residence at Mwena in Kalangala town council and arrested him along with dozens of girls whom he allegedly defiled. His Mwena residence also doubles as the headquarters of his NGO; Ssese Humanitarian Services, an adolescent sexual health and psycho-social care centre.
In a February 7 letter to the director of public prosecutions, the CSOs protested the December 1, 2013 police raid on Glaser's residence at Mwena in Kalangala town during which the girls and police officer Abraham Bbaale found at the home were arrested.
"The [manner in which the police handled the case] was not in the best interest of the children, as it deprived them of their livelihood [and left them] with no alternative. [The] majority of these children are victims of sexual abuse, child trafficking, child labour, desertion and other [forms] of abuse," reads the letter signed by Edward Maalo, the coordinator of KADINGO.
Maalo also accuses the police of violating the rights of Bbaale, the police Community Liaison officer in the district, whom he says was arrested in an inhuman, degrading and humiliating manner.
For about two weeks, some of the girls were detained at Jinja Road police station, Special Investigation Unit, Kireka, and at a police facility at Naalya, a Kampala suburb.
The underage girls were kept in a strongly guarded police house at Naalya, where they recorded statements before a team of detectives led by SP Francis Olugu.
"When they [Police officers] called us to record statements, they would tell us to state that Berry [Bernhard Glaser] had defiled us, but because the majority of us were hesitant, they then started promising us that they would take us to better schools owned by Rebecca Kadaga [Speaker of Parliament] if we pinned him," a 13-year-old girl told The Observer.
This girl, now in primary six at one of the schools run by Child Care Worldwide, a Christian NGO operating in the island district, was ironically referred to Glaser's NGO in 2011 by the police after she was defiled by her teacher at Bufumira primary school.
At SIU, Janet Nansubuga, an 18-year-old girl, currently in Senior 4 at Sserwanga-Lwanga Memorial Secondary School, was also allegedly coerced by police detectives to give a similar statement.
"They told me that my colleagues had told them the truth and had been connected to better NGOs and Kadaga's schools," said Nansubuga.
Being 18, she was later listed as an accused, and according to her charge sheet, police listed her as one of the board members accused of operating an illegal children's home. Every after a fortnight, Nansubuga has to report to police to renew her police bond.
After concluding its interrogations, police "reunited" the girls with their guardians but surprisingly, all of them went back to Glaser's facility.
On February 18, 17 girls and the Kalangala Grade I Magistrate Kenneth Gimungu, through the district Kadhi Sheikh Idris Mayanja, sought a court injunction against the police. The order, issued on February 26 by the Family division of the high court at Nakawa restrains the police from summoning them in connection to the charges against Glaser.
The order also restrains police from refusing the girls to stay at Glaser's, who is their legal guardian. Glaser, 65, claims he was inspired to start the psycho-social support centre in 2008 after being overwhelmed with requests from parents to assist their girls.
"About 80 per cent of the girls under my care have previously been sexually abused, the very first girl I took on was picked from Bufumira islands, she had dropped out of school because she had been defiled by her teacher," Glaser told The Observer.
According to Daniel Kikoola, the former Kalangala district chairman, many of the girls at Glaser's facility were sent there as victims of defilement, for rehabilitation. Cases of defilement top the criminal list in the district with a monthly average of 10 cases being reported at police.
To rehabilitate victims of sexual harassment in schools, Glaser's NGO has been working with teachers to implement a World Food Programme (WFP) funded project; The World starts with me, a sexual and reproductive health project for school children.