High court justices are now shying away from hearing the bail application of MPs Allan Ssewanyana and Muhummad Ssegirinya following anti-bail comments by President Yoweri Museveni according to their lawyer, Erias Lukwago.
Museveni recently castigated the courts for granting bail to suspects accused of capital offenses like murder and terrorism - similar cases that the MPs are accused of.
Last month the duo was granted bail by the Masaka High court judge Victoria Nakintu Nkwanga Katamba but were rearrested shortly after they were released from Kigo prison.
Before getting bail, the two MPs had been arrested and charged with terrorism, treason, and murder associated with themachete (bijambiya) killings in the Masaka sub region that left about 30 people mostly elderly dead. With fresh charges slapped against them, the MPs reapplied for bail but Lukwago says they are failing to make headways with the application.
"Unless you believe that Ssewanyana, Ssegirinya went to Lwengo, went to Masaka and hacked people to death. Unless you believe that [but] even if they have done so, the law grants them that right to be treated innocent until proved otherwise. When we filed the second application all the judges now fear to handle it, our lawyers are moving up and down in courts, in corridors. It had to even bring the principal judge to drive all the way from Masaka…to see how to deal with that file," said Lukwago.
Adding: "It has now become a hot potato, all the judges are fearing. The law allows them to grant bail, they have already actually granted bail to Ssegirinya and Ssewanyana and they took oath to upload the law, to uphold the Constitution [but] now Mr Museveni wants them to uphold his command. They are in a catch 22 situation, and you can also be picked tomorrow. I'm telling you and I’m assuring you, it never dawned or occurred to Ssegirinya or to Allan that one day they will be in that kind of mess - charged with all sorts of crimes."
However, Johnson Karemani the spokesperson of the judiciary challenged Lukwago to name the judges who have declined to hear the MPs’ application. Karemani said there is a shortage of judges now as many are currently prioritizing hearing election petitions.
“There are currently no judges to hear the application because they are currently hearing election petitions across the country," he said. "The principal judge definitely will allocate the file to someone to hear that application. So, it is wrong to say that judges are shying away from the case.”
Meanwhile, Dr Kizza Besigye has expressed shock to learn from media reports that the government lost interest in the case in which he was charged with treason following his arrest in 2016.
Besigye was in May 2016 arrested and charged with treason after he announced and swore in himself as the duly elected president of Uganda. However, the Daily Monitor newspaper reported yesterday that the then director of public prosecutions Mike Chibita in December 2019 wrote to the Nakawa court discontinuing the case without stating any reason. Besigye said that neither him nor his lawyers were ever told about the case withdrawal.
"I was also shocked to see in the papers that the case was dropped two years ago. I didn’t know, neither did any of our lawyers know. Our lawyers weren’t informed, me, the person who was accused and imprisoned, I didn’t know that they had freed me since 2019. I have been moving around knowing that I’m out on bail, I didn’t know that now am a free man…Even how the information surfaced is intriguing that when this new [activistim] campaign starts, then somehow we [get] to know that they discharged from this case. I think they must have their own reasons for dropping the case without informing us, without informing our lawyers." Besigye said
Responding to this, Karemani said there was no way they could reach Besigye who had vowed never to return to court.
“You remember that Dr Besigye said he was never going to go back to court on that particular issue," Karemani said. "How would we reach him to tell him about the withdrawal? But under normal circumstances, the accused person is normally told about the withdrawal of a case against him; but it can’t be court to begin looking for you when you are no longer interested in the matter.”