Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Human rights lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde has asked the Court of Appeal to temporarily release Male Mabirizi from prison pending the determination of his appeal challenging the 18-month sentence handed to him for contempt of court.
He made the request when Mabirizi’s application for stay execution of the orders issued by Civil Division High Court Judge, Musa Ssekaana came up for hearing before Justice Christopher Izama Madrama on Tuesday.
Mabirizi ran to the appellant court when Justice Ssekaana found him guilty of contempt of court on February 15th, 2022 and sentenced him to 18 months in civil prison. The court had earlier on January 27th, 2022 issued orders stopping Mabirizi from using his social pages to attack judicial officers.
Dissatisfied with the judgement, Mabirizi appealed the decision on grounds that he was never given a fair hearing. He also argued that there is no way Justice Ssekaana could have presided over the Attorney General’s application since he was among the judicial officers allegedly aggrieved by his social media posts. He also filed another application for a stay of execution pending the determination of his appeal challenging the legality of the sentence given to him.
On Tuesday morning, Ssemakadde told the appellant court that it was wrong for the government to arrest his client when his cases are still pending in the Court of Appeal. To support his argument, Ssemakadde cited the example of legislators who were thrown out of Parliament over election-related matters but continued to serve because of the pending civil court proceedings.
He described the decision by government to take Mabirizi to prison before his appeal could be concluded as superfluous, grounded on confusion, malice and one that was done in bad faith and total violation of the law.
Ssemakadde also told the court that he had come on a rescue mission because Mabirizi had wanted to represent himself and file supplementary affidavits showing how he is being harassed with threats of arrest on what he perceived as judicial tyranny and political persecution but the government denied him the right to civility.
According to Ssemakadde, imprisonment is not a perishable commodity and it can be served anytime. He asked the court to maintain the status quo before Mabirizi’s arrest on Monday and render his committal inconsequential. He said that Mabirizi can still go back and serve 539 days that he is so far left with if at all he loses his appeal in both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
The Attorney General’s representative Patricia Mutesi objected to Mabirizi’s application and advised him to apply for bail, saying that he was found guilty of criminal contempt of court. She noted that when one is found guilty of criminal contempt of court, the best remedy one can seek pending the appeal is bail and not a stay of execution.
She noted that Mabirizi is already a convicted man and his fate was sealed on Monday when he was sent to Kitalya prison, adding his prayers have since been overtaken by events. She asked the court to dismiss the application with costs. Justice Madrama has fixed February 25th 2022 to deliver his decision on the application.
The Criminal Investigations Directorate has since also summoned Ssemakadde to appear at Kibuli on February 28th 2022 and record a statement for abusing Justice Ssekaana. Contempt of court is the only offence in law without a defined punishment.