Uganda: We Were Reluctant to Charge Dr Nyanzi, Says DPP

Makerere academic Stella Nyanzi.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Jane Frances Abodo has said her office was reluctant to sanction charges of being a nuisance against former Makerere University Research Fellow, Dr Stella Nyanzi last recently.

Dr Nyanzi and several others, were arrested in the city centre on May 18 while matching to the Office of the Prime Minister, over what they called 'slow distribution' of government relief food to vulnerable people, mostly affected by the Covid-19 induced lockdown.

Her file was subsequently sent to the office of the DPP for perusal and sanctioning.

She was set to be arraigned before Buganda Road Chief Magistrates Court on May 19 but that never materialized.

Instead, she was released on police bond and she is expected to report back to police on May 28.

"A few days ago, Dr Nyanzi was arrested. They brought her case file for sanctioning at our offices and the charge was of being a nuisance. The file had all the ingredients to support the charge but I said this was a low priority case," said DPP Abodo.

The DPP who was on Friday evening participating in an online discussion added that: "We can stop clogging the Judiciary system by stopping sanctioning such low priority cases."

The DPP's explanation followed an expression of displeasure in the office of the DPP by senior advocate, Mr Peter Walubiri.

Counsel Walubiri had argued that it was high time the office of the DPP withdrew cases that have over stayed in the justice system like the treason case against Dr Kizza Besigye.

"Perhaps, this is the time for the office of the DPP to weed out some files that have been pending in the criminal justice system for long as the same are clogging the system for no good reason," Mr Walubiri said.

"Some years ago, Dr Kizza Besigye was arrested and charged with treason. It's now four years without his file being sent to the High Court for trial. What more is there to investigate in such a file? Why don't you withdraw such files where there is no headway?" Mr Walubiri added.

Dr Besigye was arrested in May 2016, for allegedly swearing himself in as the dully-elected president of Uganda after the controversial 2016 general elections in which he claimed to have won by 52 per cent.

This was after the Electoral Commission declared Mr Museveni as the winner of the general polls.

But in an earlier interview with Daily Monitor, the former DPP, Mike Chibita, attributed the delay in concluding the treason investigations to uncooperative witnesses who allegedly attended Besigye's swearing-in but refused to record statements with police.

On the other hand, Dr Nyanzi is not a stranger to prison as she was early this year acquitted by the High Court after spending close to 18 months in jail. She had been convicted of cyber harassment.

The Friday discussion, was organised by Counsel Bernard Oundo under the theme: "The impact of Covid-19 on the criminal justice system."

DPP Abodo said she is determined to weed out undeserving cases from the justice system starting with those arrested during the ongoing lockdown.

"I want only deserving cases to be in the justice system. Those that are not supposed to be there, we are going to weed them out," justice Abodo said.

The government chief prosecutor also revealed that she is holding high level talks with the leadership of prisons and police to see how to decongest prisons, especially of remandees involved in petty crimes, among which include those arrested for violating curfew directives.

"Our priority cases will include gender-based violence, juvenile justice and cases that involve violence. But cases that involve those arrested for walking during curfew hours, the terminally ill, we shouldn't send such people to prisons to crowd them and instead compromise the health of others especially during this Covid-19 pandemic," DPP Abodo said.

Another panellist, Dr Daniel Ruhweza, a Makerere law don, advised the police and the office of the DPP not to arrest suspects without first carrying out investigations.

This, he said would avoid scenarios of having cases taking long in the justice system.

Ms Winfred Adukule, the executive director of Freechild Uganda, urged the office of the DPP and the Judiciary not to forget about the juvenile justice in this Covid-19 lockdown.

She said, most of the remand homes are full since there was no program for them to leave the remand home during the lockdown.

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