Principal Judge directs on journalists’ treason case
The Principal Judge, Dr Yorakamu Bamwine, has directed the Deputy Registrar, High Court Criminal Division, “circumstances allowing” to set a hearing date for the treason charges against Augustine Okello, a Rhino FM journalist.
“…the Deputy Registrar Criminal Division is requested to take note of your concerns and, circumstances allowing, cause list him in the forth coming session(s),” Dr. Bamwine wrote in a letter dated 1st August 2016 in response to Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda concerns on the long outstanding case against the journalist.
On 13th July 2011, security operatives arrested Okello from Lira, detained him incommunicado for two weeks. HRNJ-Uganda assisted him to file a habeous corpus application which led to his production with six others and later charged him with treason on 1st August 2011 at the Chief Magistrates Court of Buganda Road. He was committed to High Court for trial on January 6th 2012. In July 2012, after one year on remand he was granted bail by Justice N. Musoke under very stringent terms where he is not allowed to leave Lira district without the permission of the Registrar, Lira High Court, he is required to report every Monday of the week to the District Police Commander Lira and every 3rd day of the month to the High Court Deputy Registrar Criminal Division in Kampala.
On July 29th 2016, HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator, Robert Ssempala, in a letter to the Principal Judge, noted that Okello has continued to fulfil with hardship, the burdensome and stringent bail conditions.
“Your Lordship, we appreciate the constraints faced by the Uganda Judiciary in dealing with the backlog of cases before it, we are equally concerned that the rights of the accused persons which are enshrined under Article 28 of the Constitution are being eroded, most especially the right to a speedy trial as it denies them justice,” Ssempala wrote and requested the case to be fixed for hearing at the earliest convenience.
However, Dr. Bamwine noted that the judiciary in fixing hearing dates “follows the ‘first in prison first out of prison’ principle” adding that it would be regrettable and unfortunate “if people committed to High Court after Mr Okello have appeared in Court and their cases have been disposed off before his.”
According to HRNJ-Uganda legal department, there are more than ten journalists in Uganda facing criminal charges because of their work majority of whom are charged with criminal defamation.