What’s behind Museveni move against bail?
Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE | President Yoweri Museveni has resurrected debate on courts granting bail and says he will now mobilise and solve the issue politically.
Speaking Sept.27 during the 4th Memorial Lecture of the former Chief Justice, Benedicto Kiwanuka, held at the headquarters of the Judiciary in Kampala, Museveni said getting bail should not be a constitutional right.
It was a bold statement considering that Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka was dragged from his chambers and killed allegedly for granting a suspect bail against the wishes of then-president Idi Amin Dada. And, in the audience were two former chief justices; Waako Wambuzi and Bart Katureebe.
Museveni was speaking on the theme of “Administering of Justice in Uganda through the Years.” Four days earlier, on Sept.22, while swearing in new judges and the Inspector General of Government, Museveni also noted how he is frustrated that courts sometimes convict criminals with life imprisonment instead of issuing them a death sentence.
“The issue of life imprisonment for people who have killed and the person you killed is not alive is not acceptable. It should be life for life,” Museveni said, adding that the release of capital offenders often provokes the public.
Museveni’s remarks come a few days after two MPs were brutally re-arrested by heavily armed squads of soldiers. Makindye East MP, Allan Sewanyana, and Kawempe North MP, Muhammad Ssegirinya, were re-arrested as soon as they stepped out of jail after Masaka High Court granted them bail.
The duo and others are accused of murder, terrorism, abetting and aiding terrorism and others. Their arrest and re-arrest has been criticized and labeled spurious based on the tendency of government security agents to arrest politicians violently, torture them, dump them in jail for months, and later release them for lack of incriminating evidence.
Jackie Asiimwe, a lawyer and women’s rights activist told The Independent on Oct.01 that while Museveni wants a change in the way bail is administered and perhaps he has political opponents in mind, these changes will eventually affect everyone in the country.
“The law is not selective, it is for all types of people, including you and me,” she told The Independent.
“You cannot disadvantage 42 million people just because you want to go for one, two or even 1000 people. It is unfortunate that our leaders make laws thinking that these laws will never catch up with them,” she said, “He unfortunately forgets that the law impacts everyone. Is it worth the price?”
Asiimwe gives the example of independence politician, Grace Ibingira, who pushed so hard for the emergency law and the same law he sponsored was used on him in a matter of days. She also mentions Amama Mbabazi, the former Prime Minister who also pushed for the Public Order Management Act (POMA, 2013) to block, restrict and disperse peaceful assemblies and demonstrations only for the same law to be applied on him after he fell out with President Museveni.
“So when Museveni rants about bail, he must not forget that he will be a civilian again. You can do it thinking it is meant for others but it can catch up with you as well,” Asiimwe told The Independent. Asiimwe told The Independent that beyond bail, President Museveni has often had a troubled relation with the judiciary.
“I think he perceives the judiciary’s role not as an independent institution but as an extension of the executive,” she said.
Asiimwe added: “There is an assumption that the judiciary is just an appendage of the executive and when judgments do not go their way, they feel offended. But while the president may want courts to be run a certain way, he forgets that the judiciary has rules, structures, decorum and a history that cannot be changed suddenly.”
Mwambutsya Ndebesa, a lecturer of History at Makerere University posted on his Facebook wall on Sept. 28 saying retributive justice of an eye for an eye that Museveni wants was applicable 3300 years ago under Mosaic Law.
“It was then amended and substituted with restorative justice of Christian morality and ethics,” Ndebesa said, “So by refusing bail and supporting capital punishment for offenders or suspected offenders, President Museveni is using the standards of 3000 years ago to administer justice in the 21st Century.”
“Museveni who confesses Christianity and not Judaism should listen to the voice of restorative justice and support bail as well as banning death penalty.” Ndebesa says restorative justice heals wounds, restores relationships and builds communities.
Distinguished human rights law scholar, Livingstone Sewanyana; the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, told The Independent on Oct.01 that President Museveni is wrong on bail. He said he fears Museveni could misuse bail in the current political times.
“Considering that we are increasingly seeing murder, treason, defilement and rape being politicized, this could bring more problems for citizens,” Sewanyana said.
“These days we see that if one has political differences, they will be framed for murder, treason or rape. When you politicize capital offences, there is every reason for that person to have a right to bail.” Sewanyana says bail is premised on the presumption of innocence of any accused person in the courts of law.
“The fact that a suspect is suspected or even charged with murder does not take away their rights. He says even if the grant of bail is Constitutional, it is not automatic; the applicant must fulfill certain conditions.”
“It depends on the nature of crime, circumstances of crime, whether the applicant has a permanent place of abode or whether they are not repeat offenders. Court will normally grant bail after assessing these conditions.”