Two strong statements directed at the government and the Judiciary about creeping impartiality in the trial of political activists have brought unprecedented spotlight to the trial of Dr. Kiiza Besigye.
This week, while deciding political cases.
“We have further noted the indirect pressure on the judiciary which is being used to solve disputes that ordinarily require a political solution as opposed to legal interventions,” the Bishops statement added: “Let judges remember the word of God that said: ‘You must be impartial in judgement and give an equal hearing to small and great alike.” Coming after a week-long retreat, The Bishop’s letter, was a big reminder to the judiciary that they are being watched.
The Bishops’ letter came hot on the heels of another strong missive that was sent to the Chief Justice Bart Katureebe by incarcerated former FDC presidential contender Dr. Kizza Besgye imploring him to tell Judicial officers to act with impartiality.
Besigye warned Katureebe of the creeping evil of bias within the judiciary and asked him as the head of the third arm of government to move fast and restore impartiality.
Giving himself as one Ugandan whose rights have been purportedly abused by courts of law on several occasions, Besigye reminded Katureebe that the world is watching before literally challenging the Chief Justice to join ‘good people’ in the fight against whatever is evil.
And the Judiciary appears to have given heed. Why? For one, Katureebe has pledged to handle the complaints raised by Besigye, though administratively.
Katureebe told one media outlet that whereas he is not ready to exchange letters with Besigye he will all the same handle the politician’s issues administratively. This seems to imply that the Chief Justice is going to speak to keep an eagle’s eye on the administration of justice especially in matters regarding the petitioner himself.
Pressure bearing fruits
And when Besigye appeared in Nakawa Court on Wednesday, there are things that happened to suggest that the Judiciary is examining itself. For example Magistrate James Ereemye allowed Besigye to table whatever complaint he is holding in respect of his treason trial.
This was a departure from the previous two court sessions. Ereemye did not give Besigye such a chance when the politician appeared before him for the first time.
Then, the magistrate said he could not entertain Besigye’s complaints because he is ‘not’ vested with powers of trying treason charges.
But much as it is true magistrates cannot try capital offences of which treason is one, they can entertain complaints touching on the manner in which the suspect was arrested and is treated later while under custody.
Ereemye himself proved the above to be true, when he finally allowed Besigye to present the complaints he had not allowed him to table in the previous two occasions.
As would be expected of a man in Besigye’s shoes, the politician exploited the chance given to him to air out his complaints, to hit back at the State. He spoke of what he called a sinister plot by the State to ‘poison’ him.
“The State through the DPP and police is focused on seeing me neutralized and it worries me therefore to live in the hands of my tormentors,” said Besigye politician claimed.
He added: “It ought to be known that many people in my circumstances who are political opponents have died under mysterious situations and feared to have been poisoned,” Besigye told court.
He recalled his experience in Moroto police cells early last month before he was dumped into Luzira, that he was put in solitary prison and then claimed how it put his life in jeopardy.
“At night power went off but luckily enough I had got a torch from one of my relatives that I used to light,” he recounted to court.
“The hind gate of the prison had been opened by unknown people and at around 2am, I heard something making movements near the cell. I then flashed the torch only to see a policeman clad in black with a mask on his face fleeing.”
He said that at this time he asked the officers guarding the prison to explain what he had seen, at which point the open door was slammed shut and he was told that nothing happened.
In a further departure from his earlier positions, Magistrate Ereemye allowed journalists, a few of Besigye’s friends as well relatives to be present at the mention of the case. It will be recalled that the previous sanctions that had been slapped on Besigye such as rejecting relatives, had infuriated sections of the legal fraternity, human rights activists and politicians who immediately slammed the media blackout as well as the private court session as unnecessary and flawed.
More worrying at least for many observers was the application by the DPP to hold Besigye’s trial in Camera in Luzira. The application, many human rights advocates feared, would erode one of justice’s cardinal principle that justice should not only be done, but must be seen to be done, which means requires that justice should be delivered in an open and free environment.
It came as a relief for many human rights advocates that the Court rejected the DPP’s application to try Besigye in a place that is gazetted for convicted people.
The DPP had claimed that Besigye’s trial in open court, away from Luzira, was likely to jeopardize security and general order in Kampala and its suburbs.
But the magistrate differed. Ereemye said the state has capacity to ensure security during the trial thereby tossing out the application by the DPP for the trial to be held at some house in Luzira.
Besigye, who has vowed to represent himself during the treason trial, walked the talk when he appeared without a lawyer at the Wednesday court sitting.