FILE Tonny Kipoi (R) in the dock earlier as he appears before the Court Martial
The release from prison of former Bubulo West MP, Tonny Nsubuga Kipoi who was facing treason charges more than a year, is shrouded in controversy after his lawyer and the attorney gave contradictory statements on how he was freed.
The controversy came to the fore last week when a panel of five Constitutional court justices led by Kenneth Kakuru questioned Kipoi’s whereabouts after he failed to turn up for the hearing of his petition challenging Section 119 of the Uganda Peoples' Defense Forces Act.
This particular section mandates military courts to try any person found with weapons, ammunition or equipment that is a monopoly of defence forces. Kipoi ran to the Constitutional court after he was arraigned before the Court Martial for plotting to overthrow government by force.
Last week, Kipoi’s petition came up for hearing. However, the application was dismissed on technical grounds because his lawyer, retired Maj Ronald Iduuli had an expired practising certificate and for want of prosecution. Prior to the dismissal of the application, the justices demanded to know whether Kipoi was away from court because he was locked up in jail or was away on political campaigns.
Iduuli told the judges that Kipoi was a free man after being released on bail. However, the justices were shocked when the representative of the attorney general, Jeffrey Atwiine tendered documents in court indicating that Kipoi was released by the military court after being granted amnesty. Kipoi’s lawyer disputed the claim, saying if indeed his client was given amnesty, it was under duress.
Our reporter set out to establish how Kipoi was actually released. According to court records, on March 13, 2019, Kipoi who was in military detention instructed the then Court Martial defense counsel, Charles Ssekayita to handle his legal issues related to his amnesty application.
Kipoi wrote to the chairperson of the General Court Martial Lt Gen Andrew Gutti informing him that from that day, the previous instructions given by his lawyer Maj Iduuli to Amnesty Commission concerning his application are no longer valid and should be disregarded.
"Therefore from this basis, I have decided to seek for amnesty and my application and all other issues relating to amnesty are to be handled by my counsel Charles Ssekayita (ESQ)”, reads the letter signed by Kipoi.
Iduuli had previously petitioned the Amnesty Commission asking them not to receive any application from Kipoi for amnesty on grounds that his client was being forced by the military to confess to the charges against him such that he can be given amnesty.
On April 4, 2019, Nathan Twinomugisha, the principal legal officer writing on behalf of the secretary of Amnesty Commission wrote to Gen Gutti informing him that the commission considered Kipoi as someone who should benefit from the amnesty process.
It came after Kipoi reportedly denounced violence and signed a declaration form as proof of application for amnesty. The declaration form shows that while in Makindye military police prisons on March 18, 2019, after being charged with offences related to security, Kipoi denounced rebellious activities and abandoned his involvement in war or rebellion in whatever form against the Ugandan government.
Kipoi also declared his intentions to apply for amnesty on the same form. According to the documents, Kipoi was subsequently issued a certificate of amnesty, number 25527 on April 15, 2019, signed by the Amnesty Commission chairperson. But despite being issued with the amnesty certificate, Kipoi was never released from military prison.
He was instead released on non-cash bail by the General Court Martial on June 6, 2019. Unlike the standard norm, Kipoi didn’t present a single surety for his bail.
As part of his bail conditions, court directed him to appear before the General Court Martial registrar until his matter is disposed of. Kipoi still complies with the directive to date yet ideally, once a person is granted amnesty, all proceedings against him are discontinued immediately unless he has other lawful charges.
When asked why Kipoi still reports to court despite being granted amnesty, the Court Martial lead prosecutor, Lt Col Raphael Mugisha, said he will cause list Kipoi’s matter such that he can be discharged officially like it is provided for within the amnesty guidelines.
He admitted that there was laxity on their part to close Kipoi’s file and release him from the charges in as far as the offences related to security are concerned.
Moses Draku, the Amnesty Commission spokesperson said that he remembers Kipoi starting the process for amnesty but couldn’t confirm whether or not he completed the process.
Journey to Court Martial
The former Bubulo legislator was arrested in Botswana in March 2018 for allegedly conning unsuspecting members of the public that he was a witchdoctor. He was extradited to Uganda where he was arraigned in the General Court Martial together with five soldiers on offences related to security.
Court heard that between 2011 and 2012 in diverse places in Uganda specifically in Kampala, Mpigi, Luwero Entebbe, Fort Portal, Mbale, Masaka and Nakasongola, the accused persons contrived a plot to overturn the government of Uganda.
The suspects reportedly organized meetings, mobilized funds; acquired firearms and military training in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and also mobilized and recruited people into their rank and file. The accused pleaded not guilty to the charges against them and the matter went to trial.
The prosecution presented five witnesses who testified against the accused person. However, the suspects were released on bail under unclear circumstances before the trial was concluded.