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Inmates awarded UGX 95m for being denied access to lawyers during lockdown

Lawyer Francis Tumwesige Ateenyi together with Dr Edrian Jjuko the Executive Director Human Rights Awareness and Promotions Forum at High Court in Kampala.

Kampala, Uganda |  THE INDEPENDENT |  The High Court in Kampala has awarded 95 million Shillings to 19 former inmates who were arrested for flouting regulations on COVID-19 for being denied access to their lawyers.

The said group was picked from one house in Kyengera Town Council, in Wakiso District, and held at Nkonkonjeru Police Post at the end of March 2020. Subsequently, they were arraigned before the Nsangi Magistrates court, charged with an act that is likely to spread the infectious disease and remanded to Kitalya government Prison.  

But the state withdrew charges against them on May 12. However, during the entire time, they had been denied access to their lawyers. The legal team from Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum had, on several occasions, visited Kitalya Prison but told to seek approval from the Commissioner-General of prisons before accessing the group.

Prison officer Patricia Kimera said that the condition was in line with prevalent restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19. During the time, the country was under a total lockdown, which had been announced by the president.  

As a result, the Human Rights lawyers decided to institute a civil matter against the Attorney General seeking a declaration that the inmates are entitled to access to their lawyers at any given time.  

It is on the basis of this that Justice Michael Elubu ruled that the government should have taken appropriate measures to respect the human rights of inmates in detention facilities. The Judge held that the rights of the accused persons were violated and ordered the government to compensate each of them with five million Shillings.  

“The 40-day denial of access to counsel was unreasonable and unjustified. It was aggravated when in those circumstances a hearing date was set to try the accused persons”, said the Judge.  

The beneficiaries of the judgment include Henry Mukiibi, Douglas Tumuhimbise, Andrew Kibalama, Saddam Kateregga, Raj Jjuuko, Kelvin Kugonza, Denis Ssamula, Abbey Gwanvu, Kareem Yiga, and Harris Tevin  Kifuba, Jabel Tushabomwe, Ivan Kawooya, Ashraf Walugembe, James Tendibwa, Mark Muhereza, Joel Oketch, Ronald Ssenyonga, Rodney Ssheema, and Jackson Mayanja.  

Dr Edrian Jjuko, the Executive Director of Human Rights Awareness and Promotions Forum has welcomed the ruling saying the state shouldn’t use COVID-19 restrictions to violate human rights.  

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