10 January 2013

Uganda: Jail Me If You Wish - Tumukunde

Angry Brig Tumukunde tells off government:

A long drawn out court martial trial has stretched the patience of former ISO and CMI boss, Brig Henry Tumukunde. He now says he's tired of attending court and not afraid to go to Luzira Prison if the state so wishes. Tumukunde has fought charges of "spreading harmful propaganda" for the last eight years.

Appearing before a panel of seven judges in the General Court Martial at Makindye yesterday, Tumukunde again refused to defend himself against the charges that were first brought against him in 2005. But the General Court Martial Chairman, Brig Fred Tolit, insisted that Tumukunde rethinks his position, a matter the spy chief rejected.

"Mr. Chairman, when we were last here, I categorically stated that I'll not defend myself. You insisted that you'll give me chance to think about it which is two more months now. I'm no longer worried about going to Luzira Prison which I think is better than coming to this court anymore," Tumukunde said.

But Tolit was not done:

"I need to inform you that if you choose to testify on oath, you will be cross-examined by the prosecution, if you testify without swearing, you will not be cross-examined and you also have an option of keeping quiet."

"Actually I'm worried of continuing to come before this court because anything out of here is better for me," Tumukunde countered.

"Mr. Chairman, justice delayed is justice denied. I only wish one of you puts himself in my shoes. I started coming to this court when my son was in senior one, he is now working.

"I've been in your shoes before when I was arrested for a year without being charged. I was later acquitted without a charge," a now angry Tolit countered.

After a while, Tolit declared that sending Tumukunde to prison was not hard, but that his court would rule on the matter with justice. Tolit eventually decided to adjourn the case to January 24 for the prosecution to make final submissions. Prosecution alleges that Tumukunde made the offensive remarks on a talk-show on Radio One on May 27, 2005 without authorization and contrary to sections 66(1),(2) and (5) of the UPDF Act.

Tumukunde was later summoned by the UPDF High Command and ordered to resign from Parliament where he was an Army representative. But the state was not done with him, as he was later arrested and placed under military detention for about one year before being charged in the General Court Martial. After the prosecution closed its case in November 2012, Tumukunde told the court, then sitting in camera, that he would not give his defence and instead asked Tolit to deliver his judgement.

The court had hoped that Tumukunde, a lawyer, would change his mind, but during yesterday's hearing Tumukunde overruled his own lawyers, Oscar Kambona and Emmanuel Twarebireho, and elected to speak for himself.

Why keep quiet:

Outside the court, a furious Tumukunde said he had decided to keep quiet because "that is exactly what the government wants, gagging the public with impunity".

He later cheekily added that at the start of the case there was a junior officer in the UPDF who was at the rank of lieutenant but is now a brigadier. Tumukunde didn't name the officer he was referring to.

Asked whether he is not scared of being convicted and jailed, Tumukunde answered:

"Who cares? Let them decide whatever they want to decide, it is this tendency of some people fearing being arrested that is causing others to make blunders with impunity. Of course I look at the current court chairman and sympathise with him".

The case has dragged on for so long that it has been handled by five chairpersons, including Gen Elly Tumwine, Lt. Gen Ivan Koreta, Brig Bernard Rwehururu, Maj. Gen Charles Angina and Brig Fred Tolit.

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