Article 121 of the 1995 Constitution says through the advisory committee of Prerogative of mercy, the President is mandated to exercise his power to release prisoners.
Death row inmates at Luzira Prisons. Photo by Petride Mudoola
Female inmates accommodated at Luzira Women’s Prison have appealed to President Yoweri Museveni to consider them for presidential pardon.
In a memorandum presented to the Minister of Internal Affairs Gen. Jeje Odongo, the inmates claimed that the president has been exercising his right to release prisoners, but female inmates have not benefited from any of the pardons.
“Although the President has been exercising his right to release prisoners, female inmates have not benefited from any of the previous pardons,” the inmates told Odongo as they asked him to deliver their message to the President.
According to the law, the President has no powers to intervene in criminal prosecution. However, under Article 121 of the 1995 Constitution through the advisory committee of Prerogative of mercy, the President is mandated to exercise his power to release prisoners.
The Prerogative of Mercy committee is an executive process that comes after the Judiciary has concluded its duties; it’s a system that mandates the President to exercise his powers through the prerogative of mercy to release prisoners.
The Committee is headed by the President and chaired by the Attorney General and six other reputable members of the public.
Prisoners forgiven by the President
In 2009, the President released Obote’s former minister Chris Rwakasisi and the former Governor of the Central Province during Amin regime Abdullah Nassur, who were on death row in Luzira’s Upper Prison.
Christ Rwakasisi (second right) interacts with friends after his release
On March 27, 2012, the President pardoned Sharma Kooky after spending 12 years behind bars for torturing and killing his wife, Renu Joshi. The President made his last presidential pardon on April 2, 2016 when he released Anthony Okwonga, 80, who had been on death row for the murder of Veneranda Pinyanga.
Last executions in Luzira
Although Uganda last carried out executions in 1999, courts still sentence people to suffer death. Information obtained from prisons indicates that Uganda’s Prisons currently accommodate 145 inmates on death row of which six are female.
“Having undergone through various rehabilitation programmes while in jail, we have reformed and if given the opportunity of forgiveness, we shall be able to live responsible lives,” the inmates assured the minister.
In their memorandum, the inmates appealed to the President to pardon prisoners who were convicted and those who are on the minister’s orders noting that many have spent some time in jail waiting for the minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to release them.
Odongo gives his prison experience
Odongo who was once a prisoner in the early 1990s questioned inmates why he now holds the ministerial post.
“I was once a prisoner like you and stayed in prison for some time, but having realized my past mistakes helped me to reform into a responsible person that is why I am able to hold a ministerial post,” Odongo assured inmates.
“While in the penitentiary, ensure that you respect prison rules and regulations. This will enable you to transform hence turn out responsible people who are easily accepted in the communities where you once lived,” Odongo asked inmates.
Who compiles names of those seeking clemency?
Prison’s Authority is mandated to compile a list of prisoners from various detention centre, who qualify for presidential pardon, then submit the names to the Attorney General’s office for approval annually.
Frank Baine the Prison’s publicist told New Vision that Prison’s Authority submitted 1,121 names of prisoners within its 249 prison units who qualify for pardon, however, 400 convicts have walked out of jail having served their sentences.
“The names were submitted to the Attorney General’s office in August 2011. However, to date we have not received any response to that effect, yet have no control over the committee since our duty is to submit the names of the convicts who qualify for clemency,” Baine said.
Who qualifies for Presidential pardon?
Baine did not mention the names of those who qualified for presidential pardon, but noted that the elderly above 54 years, the pregnant women, the breast feeding mothers, the terminally sick prisoners, petty offenders, capital offenders remaining with only six months of their sentence and convicts on death row were among the list submitted.
Death row inmates have appealed to the government many times seeking clemency.