The high stakes petition filed by former presidential candidate John Patrick Amama Mbabazi challenging the validity of President Yoweri Museveni’s has suffered serious setbacks that have put fairness on trial.
The trial which is set to kick off next Monday March 14 at Uganda’s Supreme Court has generated a lot of anxiety across the country and rightly so because of the potentially huge social, economic and political implications on the present and future of Uganda and indeed the entire East African region.
But the case has suffered from serious incidents including attacks on the person of the Chief Justice Bart Katureebe who is chairing a nine-person panel of judges, the offices of prosecution lawyers as well as on witnesses that all together have put the fairness into question.
A panel of nine justices of the Supreme Court led by the Chief Justice Bart Magunda Katureebe will preside over yet another petition touching on the prickly issue of poll rigging which forced Museveni to go to the bush following the disputed 1980 presidential elections.
Though many such incidences have occurred, just three stand out.
Arrest of witnesses
Asuman Basalirwa, who is one of Amama Mbabazi’s lawyers this week told court that their petition had suffered from the arrest of their witnesses by the Uganda Police force. The petitioner himself has repeated these claims that security agencies have been systematically rounding up witnesses he had lined up to prove his petition.
But what incensed Mbabazi into speaking with an even much louder voice is the en masse arrest and detention of eight of his witnesses.
Lawyer Solome Nakaweesi Kimbugwe, a prominent player in the Go Forward camp this week called a press conference following the arrest in question to vent out their anger and frustration.
“They have been arrested while on their way to record statements on the issue of rigging in the presidential elections. They were coming to our offices in Kololo. They are being detained by the police. They were ready to tell court the rigging they each witnessed,” Nakaweesi said.
While Nakaweesi’s claims that Mbabazi’s witnesses are being held at the police’s special branch at Kireka, the Kampala metropolitan police spokesperson Patrick Onyango has since denied holding any of the witnesses for the Go Forward camp.
“We are not holding any of Mbabazi’s witnesses. We are a professional institution. We can’t hold witnesses who are supposed to testify in court,” Onyango said while dismissing the claims.
But precedents seem to work against the police. When Dr. Kizza Besigye announced that he would be petitioning court to annul the victory of Museveni, police boosted by the military laid a siege on his residence in Kasangati.
The police also blocked Besigye’s lawyers from meeting let alone talking to him in regard to the petition. Each time Besigye would try to leave his home, police would arrest him, lock him up or return him to his home.
It took the intervention of human rights groups here and abroad for police to let Besigye’s lawyers to meet him.
Even so by the time the lawyers were allowed to meet Besigye, time was running very fast on the stringent 10-day deadline provided in the law within which an aggrieved presidential candidate or voter can lodge a petition.
As if that was not enough, the police invaded FDC offices and took away vital documents which the party leaders say were vital Declaration Forms.
In the end, Besigye failed to put together a petition since he required time to gather documentary evidence before he could embark on filing his petition.
Besigye had also spoken out on the arrest of his potential witnesses, the other reason he gave for not filing the petition.
Since case lies heavily on witnesses to succeed or to fail and because the electoral law sets the bar for evidence in case of presidential petitions even much higher, reports that police had been arresting Mbabazi’s witnesses, if true, can only be seen as a ploy to fail his litigation and would thus be a matter of great concern for people with high regard for the rule of law and justice.
Attack on Chief Justice
A man whom Police identified as Shabab Oyela hit the headlines this week and for the wrong reasons when he dared to attack Chief Justice (CJ) Bart Magunda Katureebe when the CJ was leaving his home.
For what reason he had elected to harm the pinnacle of justice and who could have sent him to do such a terrible mission, we shall never know. Oyela died at Mulago on Wednesday at Mulago from bullet wounds that were fired by VVIP guards.
Katureebe has been described by his peers to be a very highly principled and fair-minded lawyer. It is why his elevation to the axis of the bench received kudos from the largest sections of the legal fraternity as well from the litigant community.
That someone was trying to kill such a man, would enlist a number of questions. Did one of the parties to the petition fear he would rule against him or and so moved faster to eliminate him? That will remain a challenge for future historians to explore in a bid to try to offer necessary answers to.
What is true is that ever since the fatal attack on former Chief Justice Benedicto Kiwanuka by members of the late Idi Amin’s rogue security took place almost three decades ago, no person, be it in government or security, has ever dared to do such deplorable act again.
By attacking the top most judicial official, it is apparent that those who do it seek to intimidate judicial officers below him or her, especially the faint-hearted into censuring their judgments.
The ultimate intention is to intimidate the judicial officers into surrendering their constitutional right to independence from any organ of government or individual during the performance of their judicial functions.
Raid on chambers
As Ugandans tried to come to terms with the attack on the CJ, news of a raid on chambers of Muhammad Mbabazi and Fred Muwema’s two of Amama Mbabazi’s highly experienced lawyers and the theft of evidence they had prepared to use to prove their petition hit them like a thunderbolt from the blue.
The country had just returned from the Women’s International holiday when Ugandans fed on the news on Wednesday.
The two lawyers were identified as Mohamed Mbabazi and Fred Muwema. Mbabazi’s chambers are located along Acacia Avenue in Kololo. His guard identified only as Okello said the attackers pushed him aside and then proceeded to break the chambers.
Muwema did not point fingers while speaking about the incident. He only asked for police to do a thorough investigation in order to come to the bottom of the saga.
Mbabazi was daringly bold. “Police were seen around our chambers before the break-in. We have people who witnessed members of the police breaking into our chambers and carrying away laptops and documents,” Mbabazi charged.
Mbabazi’s chambers are located along Buganda road a stones throw from Wandegeya town.
Police has since set in sniffer dogs to try to get leads leading to successful investigations.
Whereas we aren’t apportioning blame we can only say that the attack on lawyers and theft of evidence is by extension an attack on the constitutional right for the public to access justice and the right for lawyers to practice their trade without fear or favour.