Kampala, 02nd/March/2012; The High Court in Kampala has failed to hear a bail application filed by Augustine Okello, a journalist currently on treason charges which was scheduled for Thursday 1st of March 2012 at 9:00am due to lack of a judge.
Okello has been on remand at Luzira since August 2011. He was committed to stand trial on 6th January 2012 by the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate’s Court at the next convenient session of the High Court.
HRNJ-Uganda through its legal team filed a second bail application on behalf of Augustine, on 10th January 2012. Copies of the proceedings during the committal process were prepared and transmitted to the High Court Criminal Division in-order to ensure quick disposal of the bail application. The first bail application was heard on the 24th and 25th of October and denied by Justice Jane Kiggundu.
The High Court registrar Elizabeth Kabanda informed Okello’s Lawyers, Ondimu Duncan and Catherine Anite that Justice Lameck Mukasa had been assigned ‘special duties’ and therefore would not be able to hear any applications for the next two months. Therefore, a new hearing date and judge would be allocated in due time.
Ondimu said that it is not proper to file a bail application in January and two months down the road, a date is set and not honored. These bail applications are supposed to be heard expeditiously, therefore, they lose meaning when unnecessarily prolonged. Catherine Anite added that it is unfair and costly for three sureties to travel all the way from Lira and one from Kabale only to find an empty court room. Where is the justice, she asked?
Okello Augustine commonly known as ‘Rouks’ is a journalist formerly working as a radio presenter at Rhino FM (a branch of Top Radio) in Lira.
He was kidnapped on the evening of 13th July 2011 under unclear circumstances in Lira District after holding a number of meetings with the district internal security officer (DISO) Stephen Eriaku and another police man attached to Lira Central Police station.
He was detained incommunicado for more than two weeks in different places including Kitante based Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) and Kireka, the headquarters of Rapid Response Unit (RRU). RRU has since been disbanded and incorporated into other security organs.
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) filed for habeas corpus at High Court in Lira which pressurized security agencies. He was later produced to Buganda Road court and charged with treason.
“It is very saddening that court can set a hearing date and fail to hear the application. The most unjust part about this is that there was no prior communication to the relevant parties about court’s inability to hear the application. The cost implication on the sureties who hail from distant places of Lira in Northern Uganda and Kabale in Western Uganda is very high. We implore the judiciary to devise better means of communicating to relevant parties if court is unable to proceed with a matter. Okello has been in detention for over six years, so failing to hear his bail application in such a manner is very unfortunate.” said HRNJ-Uganda Programme Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala.