18 November 2012

Uganda: Pius Katunzi - When Police Unleashed Sledge Hammer On Pleaders

Martin Neimoller was a German preacher with an acerbic tongue, who later turned into a social activist.

He once worked with the then notorious German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. He fervently backed Hitler's sinister plans of keeping Germany unadulterated, most especially by the Jews. But later Neimoller fell out with Hitler. He was on several occasions detained without trial on Hitler's orders.

It was after his brush with the wrath of the Nazis and the notorious secret police, Gestapo, that he was able to discover the indifference with which the Germans had responded to the Nazi's mistreatment of the people that were marked as unworthy.

He summarized his frustration in this famous poem:

When the Nazis came for the communist, I remained silent; I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionist, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I was not a Jew.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.

This renowned poem captures the prevailing situation today in Uganda. On Friday police from the Criminal Intelligence, and Investigations directorate (CIID) raided a law firm, O.N Osinde and Company Advocates located on the Cairo bank building in Kampala, and marched away with documents.

This law firm represents some of the people implicated in the pension scam in the ministry of Public Service. Apparently, the police invoked section 37 of the Anti-Corruption Act, which empowers police or officers from the Inspectorate of Government to use force where need be to search and seize documents if they suspect they have been hidden on purpose and are crucial to the offence under investigation.

Certainly this law never contemplated the enviable confidentiality between the clients and the advocates. And because it has never happened to any lawyers, many of them had never taken time to analyse and appreciate how draconian this anti-graft law is. But I am not also sure whether police cares anymore about respecting certain boundaries that are embodied with some institutions.

This raid has serious ramifications on the profession of lawyers especially in regard to their relationship with their clients. The random search of the firm has certainly enabled the police officers to land on confidential information of other clients that was entrusted with this firm.

While we trust that police officers work professionally, and some still have ethics to talk of , we cannot guarantee that some of the officers with magnetic eyes and memories will not abuse this privilege of access to these documents to the detriment of innocent clients. We are aware that some crooked officers blackmail people, while others trade the confidential information that come into their possession in course of their duty.

In that respect, this raid may drive this firm into crippling financial problems. The clients may decide to withdraw from this firm because they no longer trust and cannot guarantee that documents are safe with them.

This raid may also force this firm to chose particular kind of clients and reject others on ground that representing certain 'troublesome' clients could provoke more raids and brush with the ever snooping police. More seriously people may turn down legal representation and services since it no longer makes sense to entrust some documents with law firms.

Legal representation and right to privacy are fundamentals guaranteed by the constitution. Lawyers need to be trusted and it is from this trust that they get clients. The breach of this trust spells doom for the learned friends - they remain unemployed! Unfortunately police is never bothered about the individual's right to privacy.

But this raid has also come at an opportune time. When the High court was besieged by the squad of the Black Mambas, the Movement apologists said the courts deserved the wrath of the military because judiciary had decided to favour the PRA rebels.

The lawyers protested, though. When government clamped on Daily Monitor, CBS, Kaboozi ku Bbiri and Ssuubi FM and many other media houses and personalities, again the apologists justified the act, labelling the victims as sabtoteurs (vipingamizi). The way things look, the raiding may not be restricted to the opposition.

The author is the Business Development Director, The Observer Media Ltd.

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