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Death of the death sentence

Bill to align death penalty laws reawakens debate on punishment for capital offenses

Kampala, Uganda | FLAVIA NASSAKA | On Jan.22 a man who confessed in the High Court in Kampala to have killed his wife in an acid attack was sentenced to 40 years in prison. The sentencing of Khassim Kakaire who has been on remand for murder at Luzira Prison since2015 by High Court judge Anthony Ojok Ayuko was seen by some as too lenient. Kakaire, they said, should have been sentenced to death.

Judge Ayuko anticipated that reaction and in his ruling showed that he appreciated the gravity of the crime and the pain of the victims.

“This kind of offence must be discouraged at whatever cost. Someone would rather shoot you and you die than leave you in such pain,” the judge said.

But, he noted, the offender had opted not to waste court’s time by going into a full trial and had pleaded guilty under the plea bargain arrangement, was also affected by the attack, and was remorseful. He also noted that the convict is 43 years old.

“I find the 40 years appropriate, minus the four years on remand leaving the accused to serve 36 years,” the court ruled.

Kakaire told court he is responsible for pouring concentrated sulphuric acid on his wife Josephine Namanda, who he suspected to have an extra marital affair.

This case gained attention as it was heard when parliament was handling a controversial Bill; the Law Revision (Penalties in Criminal Matters) Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2015.The Bill seeks to amend the Penal Code Act, Cap 120, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2002, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces Act, 2005, and the Trial on Indictment Act, Cap 23.

While the Bill does not seek to scrap death penalty, it became a major area of discussion. Some MPs proposed a referendum to allow Ugandans decide whether or not they still need the law in place. Arguments in favor of lenience and those in favor of severity came up, not just among legislators but among ordinary members of the public.

“If you kill, you are killed too. For us it’s that fair,”said Uganda Muslim Supreme Council’s Hajji Nsereko Mutumba. He cited Islamic teachings, which he said are similar to the biblical “an eye for an eye”. He said this was part of God’s law given by Moses to ancient Israel and was quoted by Jesus.

In Uganda, according to the law, people on death row are supposed to die by hanging. Up to 149 people are currently on the death row. One qualified for hanging three months ago.

Uganda Prisons’ Frank Baine told The Independent that the 148 have either appealed or their cases are at the Supreme Court level awaiting final judgment.

“The prisoner who qualified is supposed to be hanged in a period not later than three years,” Baine said. The law, however, provides that if a convict on death row is not executed in three years, then the sentence automatically becomes a life sentence. He said many convicts have had their sentences reduced because executions last happened in 1999.

That is when President Yoweri Museveni signed a death warrant to have 28 hanged in an execution that sunk in Musa Sebirumbi who was a Uganda People’s Congress chairman in Luweero during the Obote II government.

He was hanged for the murder of Edidian Luttamaguzi, a renowned collaborator of Museveni’s National Resistance Army rebels during the 1981-86 bush war.

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