By Joan Akello
Last night, Senior Principal State Attorney Joan Kagezi was shot dead. Twice. In the neck and head. But some reports say twice in the neck.
According to Kampala Metropolitan Spokesperson Patrick Onyango, she was killed by assailants who trailed the car Number plates were in using a motorcycle (boda boda).
Kagez is reported to have parked to shop at a road side fruit stall in Kiwatule, East of Kampala. Though it is reported that two children were in the car when the incident happened, the police authorities say they were not harmed.
Onyango says police cannot rule out anything (including terrorism) as yet because the US embassy in Kampala issued a terror alert last week notifying Uganda that Al Shabaab, an Islamist militia based in Somalia, would hit any time, targeting places frequented by foreigners.
Speaking to the BBC, human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo paid his tribute to the fallen prosecutor saying she was one of the ‘most unassuming prosecutors “ who “prosecuted high profile cases yet remained simple , very kind and a humorous person. “
At the time of her death, she was the assistant director of prosecutions in charge of International Crime Division that handles terrorism, war crimes, and trafficking in persons at the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
“She remained very professional; hardworking…she would sit long hours to read and always came to court prepared. Even on the eve of her death she was preparing to cross-examine a key witness for a trial of a suspect in the High Court in Kampala,” Opiyo told the BBC this morning.
That is the ongoing trial of13 suspects in the July 11, 2010 bomb blast that killed over 70 people and left several injured at Kyaddondo Rugby Club and the Ethiopian Village Restaurant in Kampala. Al-Shabaab, claimed responsibility for the bomb blasts retaliating Uganda’s support for AMISOM
She was also an instrumental prosecutor in former Lord’s Resistance Army rebel Commander Thomas Kwoyelo‘s trial, the first rebel on trial for crimes committed during his time with the rebel group, case against Dr. Aggrey Kiyingi and others in the murder of Lawyer Robinah Kiyingi that happened ten years ago. Others include Former Arua Municipality MP Hussein Akbar Godi’s murder case in which he was given a 25 year jail sentence, former Mukono District Police commander, James Aurien who was sentenced to death for murdering his wife Christine Apolot and Thomas Nkurungira alias Tonku in Brenda Karamuzi’s murder.
She has also been the lead prosecutor in the case against Tabliq Muslim sect leader Sheikh Muhamad Yunus Kamoga charged with terrorism, crimes against humanity, two counts of murder of Muslim clerics and another count of attempted murder.
The US embassy has issued a statement reiterating the US government’s support to Uganda in combating international terrorism, in which it says “Joan Kagezi played a leading role.”
“We deplore this senseless act of violence and cowardice and join Ugandans in mourning the loss of this heroine in the forefront of the fight against crime and terrorism. We stand in solidarity with Ugandans and the Ugandan government as they seek to bring to justice the perpetrators of this heinous crime,” the statement issued today reads in part.
The government says it will conduct investigations into Kagezi’s murder and bring those responsible to book. The High Court has postponed the July 2010 case following Kagezi’s death.
But Mike Chibita, Director of Public Prosecutions who visited the crime scene today says her death will not go in vain. His office will not cower from doing its work in bringing criminals to justice with prosecutors and even private lawyers saying they are willing to carry on with Kagezi’s cases and tasks to come.
“I think it is the first of its kind but it will not stop us from prosecuting criminals. In fact, it has given us more courage to ensure that justice prevails in this country,” he said.
However, Opiyo is urging other state attorneys not to show up for work until the state commits to making their work safe because they handle very sensitive cases but do not enjoy the protection that judges get.
But city lawyer Caleb Alak who is one of the defense lawyers for the 2010 terror suspects says that there is no amount of security or protection that can shield prosecutors and other officers in court from such brutal acts against humanity.
“She has been handling sensitive cases but a prosecutor and defence lawyer simply assist court in arriving at a just and fair conclusion, our society which we are exposed to, is still primitive. How do you kill somebody for doing their job?”
He says not only is he devastated by her demise but also saddened that Uganda has lost a great prosecutor whose thoroughness will be missed and most of all, her case success rate has been very good.
In the mean time as police waits the post mortem report, it is trying to gather evidence at the scene of crime on Kiwatule road, calling any member of the public to cooperate and give information that may help the investigators to net Kagezi’s killers.