According to Article 23 of the Constitution, if a suspect spends more than 180 days (six months) on remand as he/she awaits trial, such a person is entitled to bail subject to conditions court may consider “reasonable”.
Currently, 191 individuals who were arrested together with Rwenzururu King Charles Wesley Mumbere following the attack on his palace by a combined force of the army and police in November 2016, have spent about three times the prescribed time on remand.
Of these, seven are 60 years old or older, with the oldest being Sondekeya Zakaria, who is 80 years old. Advanced age, which is usually taken to start around 60 years, is cited as a condition to qualify suspects for bail. There are also 20 women among those in jail.
In June last year, these suspects were committed to the High Court for trial, but they are still being kept at Kirinya prison.
Mr Vincent Mugabo, the Judiciary spokesperson, said the date for their trial has not yet been fixed because the Criminal Division of the High Court is still working on other cases.
“Our policy is first-in, first-out and most of the criminal sessions are handling cases that came in before King Mumbere and his people were arrested. But what I can assure you is that in the near future, their trial will be fixed,” Mr Mugabo said.
In the meantime, he added, the suspects are free to apply for bail and that the court will hear them out.
When the suspects appeared for mention of their case in the magistrate’s court at Nakawa, the defence lawyers raised, on behalf of the suspects, complaints of torture.
As this newspaper reported on December 15, 2015, the suspects “looked unwashed, a very bad smell filled the courtroom as they filed in, with some looking to be in particularly bad physical shape.”
In reaction to the complaints regarding torture that were raised by defence lawyer Caleb Alaka, Nakawa Chief Magistrate John Francis Kaggwa ruled that the torture claims raised should be investigated by the relevant State agencies, urging the relevant organs to accord the suspects all their rights.
By that time, some of the Rwenzururu loyalists, who had been badly injured during the attack, were hospitalised.
The attack conducted on November 27, 2016, by a combined force of the army and police, had been brutal. A Daily Monitor investigation published on November 17, 2017 revealed names of 151 individuals – men, women and children – who were killed during the attack.
King Mumbere was arrested together with more than 200 of his layalists, called royal guards, who survived the attack. They were taken out of Kasese and detained in Jinja, over 450 kilometres apart.
The suspects alleged that they were subjected to further torture even after reaching the detention centre, and a number of them had septic wounds on their hands and other parts of the body to show for it.
A few who were badly off were taken for treatment in military health centres, and at least one succumbed to his injuries at the Bombo Military hospital.
The situation of most of the suspects does not seem to have improved even during detention in Kirinya prison. Two of the suspects – Yosam Bagheni and Mikidadi Masereka – have since died while on remand, whereas 11 others are said to be battling different illnesses.
One of the issues that has been continually raised is the fact that the suspects were detained hundreds of miles away from their homes.
Mr Apollo Sandy, the team leader of the Dream Team Rwenzori, a local peace advocacy group, wonders why the suspects remain detained far away from home despite the State saying it concluded investigations, which would ordinarily mean they [suspects] cannot interfere with the investigation process.
He said the suspects should be transferred to different prisons in Kasese or neighbouring districts to enable their loved ones to visit them.
One person who has trouble visiting her husband in prison is Ms Jetresi Biira, a resident of Kasese Municipality, who survives on tailoring. She says she needs not less than Shs200,000 for transport, accommodation and meals to make one visit.
“I have only gone there twice since my husband was arrested because I cannot afford all that money when the burden of house rent, school fees and food is on my head,” Ms Biira says.
King Mumbere arrest
King Mumbere had been arrested during the raid, airlifted to Kampala and later on to Nalufenya police detention centre in Jinja. He was on November 29, 2016 charged before the Chief Magistrates Court in Jinja with treason, murder, attempted murder and being in illegal possession of firearms. His guards were charged before the same court on December 4, 2016.
They were all remanded to Kirinya government prison until December 13 when their file would be mentioned by the same court. It is at this time that Mumbere was joined by his guards before they returned to court, only for the State to slap the terrorism charge against them.
In February 2017, King Mumbere, Rwenzururu prime minister Johnson Thembo Kitsumbire and six juveniles were granted bail by the Jinja High Court and had stringent conditions slapped on them, including being restricted to Kampala and neighbouring areas and being banned from travelling to Kasese during the period of the bail.
Mr Mumbere’s other co-accused, however, remained on remand and until now have not had a single shot at bail heard by court.
“Our legal team had filed the application for bail for these people but the state sneaked them back to court a day before the supposed ruling was to be made and we were surprised with information that they had been committed (for trial in the High Court,” Leader of Opposition in Parliament and Kasese Woman MP Winnie Kiiza, said. “So we waited knowing that the trial would start immediately but in vain. Now, we are going to push for a fresh bail application.”
Defence lawyer speaks out
Mr Evans Ocheng, one of the defense lawyers, confirmed that they have instructions for bail from all the suspects but have had some issues to deal with it.
Mr Ocheng said it is “unfair” and “unjust” for the Judiciary not to fix the trial for the suspects who were committed to the High Court for trial almost a year ago.
He said they have a challenge getting sureties for all the 200 royal guards on remand because of the distance from Kasese to Kampala.
In the meantime, the remanded royal guards stay put in jail, their fate inter-twined with that of King Mumbere. It looks likely that in the end, the final solution could be reached politically and not legally, that is if the ongoing talks between King Mumbere’s side and that of government led by Second Deputy Prime Minister Kirunda Kivejinja, succeed.