30 November 2016

Uganda: Why Mumbere Was Charged in Jinja

Photo: Tausi Nakato/Daily Monitor
King Charles Mumbere being led to the courtroom where he was charged with murder in Jinja.

Jinja — The government yesterday looked backwards to a killing of a policeman eight months ago to find a crime to indict Omusinga Charles Wesley Mumbere, who was arrested after a bombing raid on his palace by the military and police last Sunday.

The initial plan, according to official accounts, was different: to arraign the Rwenzururu king in court in his Kasese hometown.

It was, however, aborted over fears that his physical presence in the kingdom could inflame passions and foment more trouble. There was information earlier yesterday that the king would be charged at the Military Court Martial in Kampala, but that too did not happen.

King Mumbere was arrested at his Buhikira Royal Palace in Kasese Town last Sunday following renewed clashes in the Rwenzori sub-region, but airlifted to Kampala and eventually detained at the high-security Nalufenya Police Station, outside Jinja Town. Police said 62 people, among them 14 policemen, died. Unofficial accounts put the death toll to more than 100.

King Mumbere became the first reigning king in post-independence Uganda to be arrested, remanded and charged. According to the charge sheet, "Charles Wesley Mumbere and others still at large on March 24, 2016 at Field Force Unit Detach in Kidondo Cell in Central Division, Kasese Municipality [in] Kaseses District murdered police constable Kasimba Godfrey".

The king was remanded to Kirinya prison until December 13.

It is customary for suspects to be charged in a court located in the area where a crime was committed, and in this case, King Mumbere would have been charged in Kasese District. Jinja Chief Magistrate John Francis Kaggwa, at around 4: 45pm sent the king on remand.

It had been widely expected that Mumbere would be charged in regard to the recent skirmishes in his kingdom or at least bloody events preceding the Sunday onslaught on his Buhikira palace.

He did not take plea since murder is a capital offence that only the High Court can try. The maximum penalty, if convicted, is death.

The deceased policeman over which the king was indicted, according to prosecution, was one of the victims of tribal clashes that erupted in Kasese District shortly after the 2016 presidential elections.

Details of the official concerns over the dangers of taking the king to face charges in his native district are contained in correspondences between Chief Justice Bart Katureebe, who heads the Judiciary and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Mike Chibita.

In a November 29 letter, the Chief Justice consented to a request from the DPP to have the king charged elsewhere.

Justice Katureebe said he had cross-checked with the Chief Magistrate in Kasese and that he was informed "for now the court there is deserted."

"It was in the interest of justice to grant the request that the suspects be produced in court in Jinja in eastern Uganda," the Chief Justice noted.

He wrote: "When the situation normalises, I should expect that the proceedings will take place in the appropriate court as may be further directed. All the procedures of the court and the law must be accorded to the accused person."

Mr Chibita said due to the disturbances in Kasese, the Chief Magistrate's Court is not guaranteed to be operational.

"It is in the interest of justice to do so because the suspects are already within the jurisdiction of Jinja Magistrate's Court, the 48 hours provided by law beyond which a suspect should not be held will expire today (November 29), reads the DPP letter.

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