Leaders 'exacted silence and took converts' money'

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Emanuel Besigye, 38, and his extended family were founder members of the Movement of the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, as far back as 1987. His account of his time in the movement gives an insight into its strict code of conduct and the level of obedience demanded by its leaders.

Mr Besigye remembers how, in its early days, the cult consisted of a small family group which travelled around carrying out conversions and preaching to the locals, before establishing Kanungu as its headquarters. He discovered life was hard - an 11-hour working day as a carpenter and farm worker and long hours of prayers night and day.

Discontent eventually grew from the physical hardship and peculiar cult restrictions. "We were not allowed to talk to each other in case we broke the 10 commandments. We could only use gestures. We had to sell all our property and give our money to the leaders."

Communication between rank-and-file members and the leaders had to be conducted through a strict hierarchy, except when they were exhorted to show more devotion. "If we disobeyed, the leaders would pick out members and give them canes to beat us with." Sex was forbidden, and women and men were made to live in different quarters.

The self-styled prophet Joseph Kibwetere was revered as the cult's leader and "was at the level of a bishop", he said. After Kibwetere, a priest named Father Katariba was in charge of prayer services.Credonia Mwerinde, a "priestess" and former prostitute, was one of the more charismatic leaders, claiming that the Virgin Mary had appeared and spoken to her.

Mr Besigye said he escaped from the commune in 1997 because he could no longer stand the restrictions on speech and sex. He says the leaders tried to entice him back, but he had maintained only nominal contact with some friends and relatives. He was invited to the celebrations the night before the mass "suicide" but says he refused to go - "I think many of the dead died without realising what was going to happen. This was a plan by the leaders."

Like many of the grieving relatives, Mr Besigye believes that when Joseph Kibwetere's prediction that the world would end on the eve of the new millennium failed to come true, members were coerced into dying.

He said there had been recent reports of growing dissent amongst cult members who had been forced to sell up and prepare for the end of the world, and Mr Kibwetere, in extending the date, was under pressure to demonstrate his power and authenticity as a spokesman of God.