The International Crimes Division of the High Court has found seven out of the twelve people who were arrested for terrorism shortly after the murder of former Buyende District Police Commander, Muhammad Kirumira, guilty.
Jamil Muwonge, Ibrahim Kavuma, Uthman Mugoya, Luutu Kimuli, Juma Swabalu Sekiti, Daniel Kaaya, and Ismail Ssewanyana have been on remand for about five years. While they were arrested shortly after the murder of Muhammad Kirumira, their convictions are not linked to that particular murder.
Court presided over by Lady Justice Susan Okalany on Thursday convicted the group and sentenced them to serve sentences ranging between seven and ten years depending on the number of charges each was facing.
Jamil Muwonge got the highest sentence of 10 years while Ismail Ssewanyana will stay in prison for nine years. The judge further sentenced Daniel Kaya, Luutu Kimuli and Ibrahim Kavuma to eight years in prison. Seventy-four-year-old Swabalu Sekiti and 75-year-old Uthman Mugoya will serve a jail term of seven years.
The convicts were found guilty of terrorism, aiding, abetting, financing, or harbouring acts of terrorism, and knowingly supporting Allied Democratic Forces – ADF with the belief that the assistance would be used for terrorist activities.
This followed a plea bargain agreement and subsequent plea of guilt entered with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions which was being represented by the Assistant DPP Thomas Jatiko and Senior State Attorney Lillian Omar Alum.
The prosecution case is that between 2015 and 2018, the convicts along with others still at large, in various areas including Kampala, Wakiso, Masaka, Rakai, Kyotera, Buikwe, and the Busoga region, were associated with or professed allegiance to the Allied Democratic Front (ADF), a rebel group led by Jamil Mukulu.
The judge asked each of the accused persons to ascertain if they were coerced to sign the plea bargain agreements or if they did it willingly. Through their lawyer Geoffrey Turyamusiima, they told the court that they signed the agreements voluntarily knowing the consequences.
While sentencing and endorsing the agreements, Justice Okalany was angry with Ismail Ssewanyana who faced additional charges of child trafficking and recruiting children into Allied Democratic Force rebel ranks and therefore denying them education.
Okalany said that she wanted to reject Ismail Ssewanyana’s plea bargain agreement and that she had a sleepless night thinking about his plea but she decided to endorse it. At one moment the judge turned to Luganda while addressing Ssewanyana, saying “Owonye nyoo (literally meaning that he had survived a 50-year jail term ).
“I was about to reject your agreement. You ruined your children forever. Islam doesn’t say children shouldn’t get an education. I have forgotten the chapter. You are supposed to raise them to become adults and be responsible. But you ruined them. I’m just quarrelling. But since you pleaded guilty I just said let me allow it. But I was about to reject it. Owonye nyoo. If I was to try you, I would have sentenced you to 50 years “, Okalany said.
The convicts were jointly charged with Sulaiman Ismael Ssebowa, Sulaiman Ssenfuka, Andrew Kaweesi, Ahamed Ssebuwufu, and Mariam Kasujja, who are out on bail and didn’t opt for a plea bargain. They were also physically in court.
However, Justice Okalany who presided over the long whole-day session partly seated and partly standing to stretch, said she would not try the rest of the accused persons since she had already indicated her position.
“Files should be sent to the Registrar for reallocation. Although I’m still the Acting head of the International Crimes Division -ICD. But I will not be seen to be rendering justice if I continue with those remaining on the case. However I’m still available for those who want a plea bargain,” Okalany added.
The convicts including Swabalu Sekiti, appeared unwell and had been on remand for five years. They were returned to prison to continue serving their respective sentences.
The group was arrested in October 2018 by the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence following the murder of Assistant Superintendent of Police Kirumira. Kirumira was gunned down by unidentified assailants riding motorcycles on September 8th, 2018, in Bulenga, Wakiso District.
This led to the arrest of multiple suspects, including Mariam Kasujja, wife of Abdul Kateregga, who was shot dead in a suburb of Kampala.
Before their transfer to the International Crimes Division of the High Court, the accused had reported severe torture during their detention. It is unclear whether their decision to opt for a plea bargain g was influenced by their prolonged suffering in detention or their potential involvement in the crimes.
In 2019, the suspects informed the Nakawa Magistrate’s Court that their health had deteriorated due to injuries sustained during their detention by the CMI. They claimed to have been subjected to beatings, deprivation, and lack of proper facilities, leading to health complications.