Uganda: Lawyers Protest Trial of Clerics in Crimes Court

Defence lawyers yesterday challenged the jurisdiction of the International Crimes Division of the High Court (ICD) in trying local offences against 31 suspects accused of being behind the wave of killing of top Muslim clerics last year.

Lawyers led by Mr Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi and Mr Fred Muwema, argued that it's not proper for the International Crimes Division of the High Court to hear offences such as murder, attempted murder and terrorism, saying they should be tried basing on domestic laws.

According to the indictment before the court, the suspects face four charges ranging from murder, attempted murder, crimes against humanity and terrorism.

The lawyers said the court, which is affiliated to the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC), only hears offences of international nature.

"My lord, what my senior colleague was raising is a fundamental issue about the jurisdiction of this court to try offences which are not international in nature because this is an International Crimes Division under the ICC Act and should try cases such as crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide," Mr Muwema said.

He added: "But my lords, in the indictment before you, we have terrorism under the Anti-Terrorism Act whose jurisdiction falls under the Criminal Division of the High Court, then murder falls under the Penal Code Act, which is also tried by another division of the High Court."

However, the State, led by Principal State Attorney Lino Anguzu in response, said they were waiting for the rules that govern the court, adding that some of the concerns raised by the defence, will be addressed.

Mr Anguzu also asked court for more time to acclimatise himself with the facts of the case on grounds that he had just been allocated the case.

The State also sought adjournment to enable them conclude the process of disclosing its evidence to the defence lawyers.

But Mr Muwema asked the court to prevail on the State to bring reasonable evidence which can prove a case but not flimsy evidence like what they have so far given them.

The case involves Sheikh Yunus Kamoga, the leader of the Tabliq sect, and 30 others who are believed to have directed systematic attacks against Shia and Tabliq Muslims.

A panel of three judges led by Ezekiel Muhanguzi adjourned the case to August 9 to enable the prosecution reorganise itself and also get a copy of the rules that govern the court.

Justice Muhanguzi also asked the defence lawyers to wait for the rules that govern the court to be released.

Source: The Monitor