Before 2018, Her Worship Gladys Kamasanyu was a virtual unknown grade one magistrate at the Buganda Road Chief Magistrates’ court but three headline-grabbing cases have catapulted her into the national spotlight in the recent past.
The unprecedented August 2 water-bottle throwing drama at Buganda Road court cast a harsh spotlight on the actions of both the convicted social activist Dr Stella Nyanzi’s supporters and the presiding Magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu.
Ugandans are finally paying attention to Kamasanyu over her handling of high-profile cases — but not in the way her fellow judicial officers especially Chief Justice Bart Katureebe would have wished. The Chief Justice has since described the events at court on August 2 as uncivilized, offensive and disrespectful of the sanctity of the courts.
In court, when she takes her judicial seat made out of cedar tree, metres away from persons attending court, Kamasanyu always feels protected. This sense of security is reinforced by her police bodyguard who towers right behind her sporting black Counter Terrorism Police fatigues, dark sunglasses and a stern look.
DERRICK KIYONGA takes a deeper look at what happened at court that day, which drew the rage of court attendees. It all began with poor timekeeping by the magistrate and an 18-months’ sentence, which drew loud anger, recrimination and the final bottle-throwing incident.
Perched right at the top of her curriculum vitae (CV) is a singular career objective, Kamasanyu’s prayer to become a justice of the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land.
Can she move that from the wish-list to the action stage? That is a topic perhaps not worth engaging into now. But her handling of Dr Stella Nyanzi’s criminal trial and other high-profile cases has perhaps cast Kamasanyu’s portrait in the harshest possible light in her ten-year career as a grade one magistrate.
Always sporting a black gown and spectacles in court, Kamasanyu’s catchword is “respect.”
The former Securities Preparation officer at Barclays bank, a position she held for two years, is always quick to tell any court attendee, rattled by her methods of work, to treat her with “respect.”
But does she respect other parties? Well, that can be put under intense scrutiny in this article. Interviewed last week, Nyanzi’s supporters, drawn mostly from the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) and her lawyer Isaac Kimaze Ssemakadde had no kind words.
“This magistrate is an embarrassment to the judiciary,” purred Buhweju county legislator, Francis Mwijukye.
He was angry that Kamasanyu had not appeared in court by 5pm to deliver the Nyanzi judgment yet she had scheduled it for 2pm.
“We are taxpayers. We should be treated with respect.”
Wasswa Birigwa, the FDC national chairman, was equally angered by Kamasanyu’s poor timekeeping. “This court is full. We are sweating. The magistrate isn’t here. We have been here for hours. We are going to fight on.”
FDC activists, at that time, led by the indefatigable Annette Nana Namata Mwafirika Mbarikiwa kept chanting songs including the Uganda national anthem to bully Kamasanyu out of her office but with no success.
Nyanzi also screamed from the court holding cells: “Kamasanyu come out and read the judgment. Kamasanyu come out….”
From day one, Kamasanyu didn’t get on well with Nyanzi and her lawyers. One time, she adjourned the case because she felt the freshly renovated courtroom was filthy. To the defense team, the adjournment was a malicious way of prolonging Nyanzi’s stay in prison – after all, she had refused to apply for bail.
While she gave the state about four months to present only three witnesses, in one month she had run out of patience with the defense team’s efforts to look for their own witnesses. Once the magistrate closed the defense’s case, without hearing from its witnesses, Ssemakadde, the defense lawyer, decided to boycott further proceedings. He believed his continued presence would give the proceedings credence.
Nyanzi’s trial and sentencing, which has gone viral on social media is just a tip of the iceberg. Whether wittingly or unwittingly, Kamasanyu seems to hate and punishes parties in her court who seem to curry lots of favour with the media. Once you draw lots of media attention, Kamasanyu will always delay calling your file on hearing day.
When she was still a lower profile magistrate in 2017, Kamasanyu, a 2005 graduate from Makerere University School of law, was assigned a case that drew media spotlight. On trial, was Joram Mwesigye, a former commander of Old Kampala Police station, who was accused of brutally assaulting former WBS TV journalist Andrew Lwanga during a protest. Lwanga now walks on crutches as a result of the assault.
Perhaps to get journalists off the case, Kamasanyu employed delaying tactics. A case listed for hearing at 9am, would actually kick off at 4pm. No explanation or apology would be given to the interested parties by Kamasanyu.
Judgment in Lwanga’s case was set for March 10, 2017. Kamasanyu, 39, was supposed to deliver judgment by 9am. Journalists armed with cameras trooped into her court room, filling it to capacity. The magistrate, however, seemingly unmoved by the huge media attention, decided to handle other cases first. At around midday, Kamasanyu turned to the anxious Lwanga crowd and said; “You [journalists] are scaring my people.” That’s why I had to give this [Lwanga’s] judgment last.”
When she finally delivered the judgment late in the evening, Kamasanyu delivered a fatal blow to press freedom in Uganda. She convicted Mwesigye for assaulting the journalist but let him walk off with a fine of Shs 6m. That couldn’t even cater for the journalist’s hospital bills.
The journalists in court couldn’t help but to boo Kamasanyu and in typical style she shot back; “Please respect me because I respect you.” “If you are not happy, then just go out, ok?” Then, Kamasanyu walked out of court unscathed.
In 2018, Kamasanyu again handled a case which has since proved very hard for prosecution to re-litigate. Just like Makerere University research fellow Nyanzi, Brian Isiko, a student of YMCA Jinja branch, was charged with cyber bullying and offensive communication under section 24 of the Computer Misuse Act.
Specifically, the student was accused of sending a barrage of love messages by telephone to Sylvia Rwabwogo, the Kabarole woman MP. Once the case was allocated to Kamasanyu, without delay, and on the first hearing, she convicted and sentenced the then 25-year -old to two years in jail, drawing a loud public outcry.
Kamasanyu claimed Isiko had conceded to committing the crime but this was later found inaccurate. According to the court record, Kamasanyu assumed Isiko had admitted guilt when he said; “Everything she [Rwabwogo] said is correct. I wanted her to become a personal friend. I ask for forgiveness. I also wanted her to give me ideas on how to run a poultry project. I didn’t have any bad intention.”
When Isiko appealed Kamasanyu’s judgment in the High Court citing a failure by the magistrate to comply with procedures laid out in law when an accused demands to change his or her plea, Justice Jane Frances Abodo agreed that Kamasanyu ought to have explained to the accused in his local language every detail of the charge and the ramifications of pleading guilty- something the magistrate hadn’t done.
“The abuse of procedure goes to the root of the case and it affects the accused’s [Isiko] right to a fair hearing,” Justice Abodo of the criminal division of the High court held while tearing into pieces Kamasanyu’s judgment and thereafter, she ordered a retrial but under a different magistrate.
The retrial itself has failed to take off because the case initially wasn’t well-thought-through. There was also a stark difference in methods of work between Kamasanyu and Abodo, a former prosecutor at the Anti-Corruption court. Though she had numerous cases, Justice Abodo said she had to handle Isiko’s case first for two reasons; it was of great public importance and she wanted journalists to go and do other assignments.
Though Isiko and Lwanga suffered quietly under Kamasanyu; Nyanzi and FDC activists weren’t going to let her off quietly. On August 1, when Kamasanyu convicted Nyanzi on the cyber harassment charge but scheduled the sentencing for August 2 at 3pm, the mainly youthful activists donning FDC T-shirts put her on notice.
“Kamasanyu please keep time tomorrow we shall be here by 2pm,” they shouted as she stood up from the chair, “If you don’t keep time, you will see what will happen.”
Having witnessed the August 1 mayhem via television, the judiciary honchos sent in officers to keep peace but still Kamasanyu didn’t keep time –angering the activists.
The end was a rowdy, loud bottle-throwing drama. In a statement issued on August 3, the chief justice, who commended Kamasanyu for remaining calm throughout the proceedings and condemned the assault on her, said acts of hooliganism have no place in a civilized society.
“This kind of thing is not acceptable…we condemn this kind of hooliganism in the strongest possible terms. We hope the culprits are quickly identified and brought to book,” he said.
Six people have so far been arraigned in court for their role in the bottle-throwing drama.
“We’re working hand-in-hand with relevant authorities to ensure that there is adequate security for all judicial officers. I have already asked the minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to raise the matters of courts’ security as a matter of urgency in Cabinet.”
The Chief Registrar, Ms. Esta Nambayo, said judicial officers are merely neutral arbiters who carefully hear both parties in a matter before making a verdict in accordance with the law. “The law gives dissatisfied parties a right to appeal any judicial decision up to the Supreme court.
“We know that Her Worship Kamasanyu dutifully played her part in the case of Dr Nyanzi, and anyone dissatisfied with her decision has a right to appeal rather than engaging in violence,” she said.
To become a Justice of the Supreme court of Uganda.
- A holder of a post-graduate Diploma in Public Administration and Management, Uganda Management Institute.
- A holder of postgraduate diploma in Social Justice, Makerere University.
- A holder of a diploma in Legal Practice, Law Development Centre.
- A holder of a Bachelor of Laws, Makerere University.
- Strong skills in handling children and related issues, gender issues, alternative dispute resolution (ADR)
- I have integrity and mature ways of handling issues.
- LLM Makerere University 2015 (Waiting for graduation)
- Post Graduate Diploma in Public Administration and Management, Uganda Management Institute 2014 -2015
- A postgraduate diploma is social justice from Makerere University (2013 –May 2014).
- Diploma in Managerial Problems and the Courts, the Market and the Courts, Democracy, Human rights and the Courts, Copenhagen Business School (October 2011).
- Certificate in Law and Justice as tools of democracy from Copenhagen Business School –Centre for continuing Education (25th September 2011 -21st October, 2011).
- Postgraduate diploma in legal practice from Law Development Centre (2005-2006).
- Bachelor of Laws Degree from Makerere University (2001 -2005)
- Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education from Eagle’s Nest S.S.S
- Uganda Certificate of Education from Kaloke Christian High School (1995-1998)