News and Views
Buganda riots suspects threaten to sue State
Free after 1,000 days in jail for no crime
Having endured severe beatings, nursed life-threatening injuries, and been deprived of their right to a healthy environment while in police custody and in prison, 11 people yesterday rejoined their families after spending close to 1,000 days with the death penalty hanging over their heads.
They spent 32 months and three days in custody before High Court Judge Ralph Ochan ruled that they did not have a case to answer over terrorism in connection with the September 2009 riots that saw the torching of Nateete Police Station.
The former suspects now want justice to be done and will be pursuing the State for compensation for the very personal losses and inhumane treatment they suffered while in detention.
Their lawyers, Mr Medard Ssegona and Mr Apollo Makubuya, both very close associates of the Buganda cultural institution, yesterday said they have received instructions to compute and quantify the losses suffered ahead of a planned filing of a suit against the government.
Robert Ssekabira, Musa Sendeo alias Kakono, Kamada Nsubuga, Hakim Lwanga, Richard Kijjambu, Sam Ssemambo, Muzafaru Mugisha, Salim Magoba, Elisa Mujuni, Mohamed Sekatawa and Meddie Nsubuga all feel that what has played out through-out these many months has been a travesty of justice.
Judge Ralph Ochan would agree, announcing in court: “We are disappointed by the prosecution and police because they ignored the basic requirements in investigations and fundamental human rights of the accused persons.”
The violence which followed the September 2009 pro-Buganda Kingdom demonstrations, which later descended into rioting, seemed so far away, and the memory of the more than 30 people who died when security personnel intervened with brutal force, looked distant yesterday.
Judge Ochan said he was disappointed by the manner in which prosecution violated the fundamental human rights of the accused persons. The judge blamed the state for assigning incompetent officers to investigate a case of such seriousness.
For what the defence has always considered to be a case of malicious and politically-motivated prosecution targeting Buganda Kingdom, Mr Makubuya yesterday demanded that the State now apologises to the public over what he described as fabricated charges.
“This case has shown the police’s incompetence in handling cases, bringing evidence as well as preferring charges in an unprofessional way. The delayed justice also calls for government appropriately compensate the people,” he added.
Mr Ssegona, meanwhile, typically kept a straight face as he expressed sympathy for the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), whom he said tried to do a professional job to massage someone’s ego in a case which was brought in bad faith.
“[The] DPP was compelled to do a job brought to legitimise the illegitimate to use and abuse the court process. This has brought shame to the State,” Mr Ssegona said.
Police Deputy Spokesperson Judith Nabakooba did not have an immediate response when contacted, indicating that she needed time to consult but referred this newspaper to the DPP.
The DPP’s team, however, said the matter is not over yet. Ms Jane Kajuga, the publicist at the DPP, said they would internalise the court decision before announcing their next course of action.
“We shall study and analyse the court decision and the reasoning of the judge and thereafter, we shall be able to come up with a decision on whether to appeal or not,” she said.
But Mr Livingstone Sewanyana, the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative concurred with the judge stating: “Terrorism is a very serious offence attracting the death penalty on conviction that you cannot simply hold it against a person who is just expressing his fundamental rights.”
He asked that the government offers redress for the wrongs occasioned to the accused persons, saying the State used the terrorism charge as a political offence against innocent persons as a way of creating a chilling effect among the population.
Uganda Human Rights Commission Chairman Med Kaggwa was hesitant to comment about the case. “I will need to first acquaint myself with the ruling,” Mr Kaggwa said.
Court drama and twists
During the hearing, the case was repeatedly marred by drama, accusations and counter accusations among witnesses and giving of contradictory statements. Other police witnesses went as far as accusing their seniors of giving false evidence to court, in effect, committing the offence of perjury (lying under oath).
For instance, witness Edward Mukholi failed to substantiate his testimony that two of the accused persons were convicts from a junior court. He could not give court a certified judgement copy as ordered.
Mr Mukholi testified that Elisa Mujuni and Mohammed Sekatawa had earlier been convicted by a junior court in Nsangi. Mr John Stephen Okello was accused of forging an exhibit slip to implicate the accused persons of theft before admitting that storekeepers did not sign the exhibit slip.
Apollo Mugabi told court his senior, Mr Reuben Wasiima, the former Nateete Police boss, lied to court in a statement that he released all the suspects from the cells due to smoke.
Sighs of relief in court
There were tears of joy at the High Court in Kampala yesterday morning after a case in which 11 people charged with terrorism in connection with the September 2009 Buganda riots was dismissed.
Judge Ralph Ochan discharged the group, part of an initial 25 people, who had been committed to trial for alleged terrorism, saying they did not have a case to answer.
A fully-packed courtroom was at first very silent when Judge Ochan began reading his ruling. When it dawned on the accused, their family, lawyers and well-wishers that they were free men, their solemn expressions gave way to rapturous whoops of delight. They did not wait for the judge to leave the courtroom before spontaneously breaking out in singing the Buganda Kingdom anthem.
Judge Ochan delivered a ruling which will have left a bitter taste in the prosecution’s collective mouth. Prosecutor Vincent Wagona’s explanation that any police officer can investigate a case of terrorism was roundly dismissed as an attempt to confuse court.
“The investigating officer was below the rank of a superintendent,” the judge maintained.
He also pointed out that there had been violations of Articles 28(1) and 44(c) of the Constitution, which provisions together guarantee the non-derogable rights to a fair, speedy and public hearing before an impartial court, and prohibit torture, inhumane or degrading treatment, among others.
The judge said there were numerous instances of illegalities and violatons of the law, substantive as well as procedural in the investigation and prosecution of this case that would, if allowed to stand, give rise to a grave miscarriage of justice. Judge Ochan said the evidence on record had been thoroughly discredited to render the whole prosecution a nullity.
“I am disappointed that a whole police station was burnt but the most incompetent police officers were dispatched to investigate. The evidence was full of lies,” he said.
The 11 witnesses, all police officers, testified against the 11, giving contradictory statements, while others accused their seniors of giving false evidence to court in this trial, which has been condemned by human rights defenders as a misuse of State authority.
Violence broke out in Buganda in September 2009 after government stopped the Kabaka from attending a youth ceremony in Kayunga District where the local community, the Banyala, wanted to break away from Buganda.
Security agencies said they feared that the Kabaka’s visit would spark violence, and stopped him from attending the ceremonies.
Yesterday, two years of heartache for the families came to a most emotional ending with most of the accused persons unable to put in words what they felt at walking free. They were crying tears of joys and something else.
By Juliet Kigongo
List of accused persons
As of 2010
Musa Sendeo alias Kakono,