Will Charging Utility Vandals with Terrorism Succeed in Courts?

Police have declared that all suspects in utility vandalism cases will be charged with terrorism offences. 

Police Spokesperson, Fred Enanga, has said that the leadership of joint security agencies engaged the Directorate of Public Prosecution -DPP and a decision has been reached that acts of vandalism of utility infrastructure, sabotage, and destruction of public property should be prosecuted under the Anti – Terrorism Act, 2002.

Security and DPP’s agreement to prosecute vandals under the terrorism Act comes barely a month after President Yoweri Museveni, in his end-of-year address raised concern over the continuous cutting down of electric poles and destruction of pylons.

Museveni equated the vandals’ acts to terrorism and tasked intelligence security agencies to crack down the culprits. This was after pylons and electric poles had been destroyed in areas of Bweyogerere, Namanve, Luweero, Kampala, Masaka, Mpigi, and Mityana.

Enanga said the vandals will be prosecuted under Section 7(2) of the Terrorism Act which states: “A person commits an act of terrorism for purposes of influencing the Government or intimidating the public or a section of the public and for a political, religious, social or economic aim, indiscriminately without due regard to the safety of others or property carries out all…”

Lawyer Najib Kasule, said it is tricky to prove the offences of terrorism against utility vandals since it attracts excessive penalties. Kasule said the prosecutor must present more than enough evidence to prove terrorism offences against utility vandalism suspects.

“The offence of terrorism has specific ingredients which have to be proved before the court convicts anyone,” Kasule said. “The challenge will be proving all the ingredients beyond rea reasonable doubt to the court’s satisfaction. That’s the tricky part.”

But Enanga said clauses (a) and (g) of section 7 (2) of the Terrorism Act give sufficient grounds on which utility vandals can be prosecuted with terror-related offences. Clause (a) says one can be charged with terrorism if he or she intentionally and unlawfully manufactures, delivers, places, discharges, or detonates explosive or another lethal device, whether attempted or actual, in, into, or against a place of public use, a state of Government facility, a public transportation system or an infrastructure facility, with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or extensive destruction likely to or actually resulting in major economic loss. Clause (g) also talks about serious interference with or disruption of an electronic system.

Lawyer Elias Nalukoola Luyimbazi said to secure terrorism prosecution against utility vandals, the facts must be in line with the provisions of the same. “Facts of the case must be in line with the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act, the question is whether such acts were prohibited by the statute,” Luyimbazi said. “Are the facts at hand bringing out the ingredients of the offenses provided for under the Anti-Terrorism Act?”

Enanga said that based on DPP approval of charging utility vandalism suspects with terrorism, five people have already been arraigned in courts of law and they are not facing offences of malicious damage but terrorism. These five suspects Atusasire Richard, a 27-year-old Electrician with Polycom Tech Engineering service; Mwekambe Innocent; and Mwine Mutaho Johnson, a technician with UMEME Uganda Ltd, Mbarara office; Tashobya Edgar, aged 35, and Tumusiime Samuel who were charged in court, after they allegedly vandalized 500 meters of electricity wires in Butanga 2 village, in the Isingiro district.

“It is now evident from the continuous acts of sabotage and destruction of public property, that terrorism does not solely result from violent tactics such as active shooting events, IEDs, suicide and roadside bombs but also from saboteurs and other disaffected persons, targeting vital utility infrastructure,” Enanga said.

Kasule, however, noted that it is within the DPP’s discretion to charge any offense based on the professional judgment of the likelihood based on the available evidence. “So, in my view, the motive of the suspects is critical so as to prove terrorism, however, Court can also convict you of a lesser offense if the evidence can’t support a greater offense,” Kasule said.

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