Lawyers Lack Access to Jailed MPs Over Ebola Restrictions In Prisons

The lawyers representing two jailed members of Parliament have told the International Crimes Division of the High Court that they have been unable to meet them  to sign legal documents related to their intended constitutional petition due to the ban of  visitors in prison over the Ebola outbreak.

The lawyers including Caleb Alaka and Shamim Malende said this on Monday while appearing before Lady Justice Alice Komuhangi Khaukha for the pretrial hearing of the case against their clients Makindye West MP Allan Ssewanyana and his Kawempe North Counter Part Muhammad Ssegirinya.

The MPs together are charged with four others namely, Jackson Kanyike, John Mugerwa, Bull Wamala, and Mike Sserwadda.

The group is battling charges of terrorism, murder, aiding and abetting terrorism which stem from their alleged involvement in Greater Masaka  districts machete killings which left more than 20 people dead and scores injured in mid 2021.The elderly were majority of the victims.

But when the matter came up for further pretrial hearing, the court first heard that one of the defense lawyers Malende was never served with the documents the Prosecutors intend to rely on to prosecute her clients and therefore the matter cannot go on as earlier scheduled.

Malende added that they wanted to file a constitutional petition challenging the legality of trying the suspects  on almost similar offenses in both Masaka and Kampala High  Courts, and protecting  state witnesses to be used against them.  But they have not been able to do so because of the restrictions made recently barring people from accessing the prisons because of the Ebola Outbreak. 

On November 1st 2022, the Commissioner General of Prisons Dr Johnson Byabashaija through the Prisons Service Spokesperson Frank Mayanja Baine, banned visitations in prisons in five districts where Ebola has since been confirmed until further notice.

He listed the districts such as Mukono, Wakiso , Kampala , Kassanda and Mubende and said that his directives were most likely to be revised upon subsequent developments. Ronald Hakiiza, a Prisons Officer from Kigo Prison where the suspects are on remand also told Court that the directive from his boss was made to stop the spread of the disease in the prison.

But according to the lawyers, the directive has hugely affected them because their clients  cannot append their signatures on the petition and the affidavits which they would have taken to prison for signing before a petition is formally filed before the Constitution Court.

As a result, Judge Komuhangi has directed the prisons to allow the defense lawyers talk to their clients within the court premises.

Meanwhile one of the suspects jointly charged with the MPs Jackson Kanyike has told Court that he was blackmailed by the Prosecution and is being kept in prison allegedly to testify against Ssegirinya and Ssewanyana.

According to Kanyike, he wants the Prosecution led by State Attorney Richard Birivumbuka to first let the witnesses that they intend to rely on to try the accused persons to first experience prison life.

Kanyike who has said this repeatedly added that he was arrested on charges related to violating president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni ‘s directives on COVID-19 specifically on curfew but he got shocked after being put on the same file with the legislators and allegedly persuaded to testify against them.

But the Judge in response said that this is not the right time for Kanyike to raise his matters since he appeared to be defending himself over the allegations levied against him before the case reaches that stage.

The accused persons have now all been further remanded to Luzira Prison until December 5th 2022 for pretrial hearing to resume.

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