Kampala, 07th/December/2012; Makindye Chief Magistrate’s Court has dismissed a criminal libel case in which two Daily Monitor journalists Henry Ochieng and Angelo Izama were accused of defaming the president of the Republic of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.
The Grade One Magistrate, Flavia Nabakooza cleared Ochieng, Daily Monitor’s Political Editor and Izama, a former senior reporter with the same daily news paper for want of prosecution. She, however, advised the state to reinstate the matter once the Supreme Court makes a ruling on the legality of the offense of criminal libel, which is being challenged by four Ugandan journalists in the country’ Supreme Court.
Prosecution alleges that the duo, on December 20, 2009 unlawfully published a defamatory article that appeared in the Sunday Monitor titled: “Will the people’s power defeat President Museveni in the poll?” comparing the Ugandan government to that of the Philippines under former leader Ferdinand Marcos who was ousted through public protests in 1986. The column discussed the risk of political violence ahead of the 2011 general elections, in which Museveni was expected to seek a fourth term. Ochieng and Izama denied the charges. The case had not been heard since 2009 when they were charged.
Four journalists: Joachim Buwembo, Robert Mukasa, Bernard Tabaire and Emmanuel Davies Gyezaho challenged the legality of the offence in the Supreme Court after being dissatisfied with the Constitutional Court ruling that upheld the offense of criminal libel. The journalists argue that criminal libel infringes on media freedom which is their fundamental right enshrined in the National Constitution. The appeal has not been heard since the court is not fully constituted. Without the required Coram of seven judges, the case cannot takeoff.
“I feel very relieved now after walking to Court for almost three years. It is however too early to celebrate since the matter in the Supreme Court is still pending.” Ochieng told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda.
Daily Monitor lawyer, James Nangwala told HRNJ-Uganda that all similar cases should now be dismissed. “All the other pending cases of criminal libel should face the same fate. There is no reason why people should continue walking to court when their cases cannot be heard. People should not even be charged from this offence until the Supreme Court has made its ruling.” he said.
The Judiciary spokesperson, Erias Kisawuzi was not sure when the appeal could be ruled on. “We know the Court has no quorum, so we are waiting for the appointing authority who is the president to appoint news justices to the Supreme Court. Some of them have retired while others died.” he said.
“HRNJ-Uganda welcomes the bold step taken by the Magistrate to dismiss the case other than making unending adjournments. We appeal to the appointing authority to execute his mandate of appointing the required number of justices of the Supreme Court in order to ensure a fully functioning judiciary. Meanwhile all pending cases of criminal libel against other journalists should be dismissed; the State should also refrain from preferring similar charges until the Supreme Court has disposed of the pending appeal before it.” said the National Coordinator Wokulira Ssebaggala.