11 August 2017

Uganda: Muslim Clerics Murder Trial Judgment Postponed

The International Crimes Division (ICD) of the High court yesterday postponed the much-anticipated judgment in which 14 people are accused of killing Muslim clerics between 2014 and 2015.

The judgment had been scheduled for today but Harriet Ssali, the court's registrar, in a late notice yesterday communicated that the accused will have to wait until August 21, to know their fate.

The accused include Sheikh Muhammad Yunus Kamoga, the head of the Tabliq sect, Siraji Kawooya, Murta Mudde Bukenya and Fahad Kalungi.

Others are Amir Kinene, Hakim Abdulsalam alias Kassim Mulumba, Abdulhamid Sematimba Mubiru, Hamza Kasirye, Twaha Sekitto, Rashid Jjingo, Musa Issa Mubiru and George William Iga. DERRICK KIYONGA breaks down the key issues that the judges may use to determine the case.

The suspects are accused of murdering sheikhs Ibrahim Hassan Kirya and Mustapha Bahiga. They are further accused of attempting to murder Prince Kassim Nakibinge, the titular head of the Muslim community in Uganda, Sheikhs Haruna Jjemba, Najib Ssonko and Mahmood Kibaate.

The directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) presented 36 witnesses and concluded that it successfully pinned the accused, who have been in jail since 2015 on counts of terrorism, murder and attempted murder.

However, defence lawyers led by Fred Muwema and MacDosman Kabega insist there is no direct evidence linking the accused to the heinous crimes.

The defence lawyers dismiss the prosecution's handling of the case as a 'very simplistic way of looking at very serious offences' and they hope their arguments will redirect the case back to what they call 'proper legal discourse.'

DYING DECLARATIONS

Prosecution led by principal state attorneys Lino Anguzu and Thomas Jatiko cite the deaths of Bahiga and Hassan Ibrahim Kirya to prove both the charges of murder and terrorism.

In determining the case, the three judges are going to have to confront the dying declarations of Bahiga that prosecution used in a bid to prove that Kamoga, in particular, was the mastermind of the murder.

During the year-long hearing, both sides produced several witnesses but the identities of some were concealed for their own safety. Prosecution paraded two witnesses to back up its case that indeed Bahiga made a dying declaration minutes after he was shot at Bwebajja, along the Kampala-Entebbe road.

First was Bahiga's son, Mujahid Bahiga, who was in the company of his father on the fateful day on December 29, 2014. He testified that minutes before his father died, he said in Luganda: "Kamoga onzise" [Kamoga, you have killed me].

Then there was also evidence by prosecution witness number two, Elizabeth Kabahinda, who was a medical billing clerk at Namulundu medical centre where Bahiga was rushed for treatment after being shot. She testified that the dying sheikh said: "Temumpisa mubulumi buno... manyi nti ngenda kufa. Kamoga, bwotyo bwosazewo... kale kanfirire eddiini." [Do not take me through pain... I know I'm going to die... Kamoga, this is what you have decided... let me die for my religion.]

In their final arguments, the defence lawyers attacked the evidence of Bahiga's son, contending he was evidently weighed down by a natural bias against Kamoga due to his history of feuding with his father. The defence also says Kabahinda's testimony contradicts that of Dr Emmanuel Muwema, another prosecution witness.

Dr Muwema treated Bahiga at Namulundu but told court that he only heard Bahiga mumble some words in Arabic before he died.

PREACHING

At the height of the tension between the warring factions at Nakasero mosque, prosecution says their witness number 22 told court that Kamoga told him in reference to the victims [Kirya and Bahiga] that: "even if it means killing them I will kill them... those men were joking. They have never killed but for me, even if it's in broad daylight [I can kill]."

Furthermore, prosecution relied on the evidence of witness number 29, who told court that Kamoga, while addressing a congregation at William Street mosque, stated: "You creatures, we are the ones who have your lives at our hands, should we release these young ones... "

Prosecution claims that Kamoga, in the above utterances, was aiming at Bahiga, Kirya and Major Muhammad Kiggundu, who was murdered last year.

But the defence lawyers asked judges not to believe such claims. They queried witness 29's testimony why other people who were present in the mosque when Kamoga promised to kill were not called to testify.

"It is not possible that only the complainants and others persons in the faction opposed to accused [Kamoga] heard him promising to kill," the defence argued, "Why wasn't a video evidence of the preaching not produced in evidence? The possible inference can only be because all these allegations are a fabrication."

THREATS

To prove that the accused had threatened the deceased, prosecution paraded five witnesses who testified that Kamoga issued the said threats. For instance, Sheikh Haruna Jjemba testified that at the height of the wrangles, an anonymous person called him from William Street mosque and told him that his neck was ripe for slaughtering.

Jjemba told court that at a meeting organized by NRM vice chairperson, Hajji Moses Kigongo, to end the infighting among Muslim factions, Bahiga said he was no longer willing to work with Kamoga because: "this man is planning to kill us".

The statements, according to the prosecution, are to the effect that Bahiga, Kirya, Kiggundu, and one Swadiq Ndaula were the strong ones on the other side and the threat that Kamoga would kill them was on record.

To Jjemba's evidence, the defence seemed not to have a ready answer but they seemed to be more concerned with prosecution's claim that their clients distributed several fliers with inciting hate speech at various mosques.

ATTEMPTED MURDER

In order to prove attempted murder, the prosecution is relying on the evidence of Jjemba himself. He told court that there was an armed attack on his home at Matugga in the night of January 3, 2015.

The incident came six days after the fatal shooting of Bahiga at Bwebajja. According to Jjemba, he only survived because his armed guards duly repelled the attack.

On the contrary, defence lawyers say Jjemba failed to put the accused at the crime scene when he stated that during the attack, he hid under the bed thus he did not know who was shooting at his house.

In July, three court assessors advised that the charges be dismissed. However, it remains to be seen if the judges will agree.

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