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Ssegirinya trial: UBC journalist first state witness

Muhammad Ssegirinya in court. File Photo

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Juliet Nayiga, the news editor of UBC Radio took to the stand on Thursday afternoon as the first witness in a case in which the jailed Kawempe North Member of Parliament, Muhammad Ssegirinya is accused of inciting violence.

The state accuses Ssegirinya alias Mr Update of posting statements on his Facebook page, “Ssegirinya Muhammad Fans Page”, calculated to incite the public to participate in violence against a section or group of Ugandans.

He is quoted to have posted on his Facebook page between August and September 2020 that, “I am warning those who are trying to assassinate Hon. Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu that what will happen will be forty times worse than the 1994 Rwandan genocide”. At least more than 1million people are believed to have been slaughtered in the ethnic cleansing in Rwanda within 100 days.

Kyagulanyi is the leader of the National Unity Platform, Uganda’s youngest political party. He was the first runner up in the January 14th, 2021 presidential polls. When the matter came up for hearing before the Buganda Grade Magistrate Siena Owomugisha, state prosecutors Peter Mugisha and Ivan Kyazze presented Nayiga as the first state witness.

Nayiga told the court that the Managing Director of UBC Radio tasked her to translate and transcribe videos of Ssegirinya inciting violence delivered by the Criminal Investigations Directorate of the Uganda Police Force. According to Nayiga, upon receiving the compact disk containing the videos whose origin she doesn’t know, she listened and transcribed what Ssegirinya was speaking.

She tendered before the court a letter from CID to the Managing Director of UBC Radio, in which police requested translation services. However, Ssegirinya’s lawyers Asuman Basalirwa and Shamim Malende objected to the letter, saying that in law, one cannot produce evidence from a document that never addressed to them as an individual or didn’t author.

Basalirwa asked the court to reject the letter on grounds that besides the prosecutor’s failure to serve them the letter on the list of documents they intend to use in trial, Nayiga was a third party who shouldn’t be authorized to tender such a letter. However, the magistrate overruled Basalirwa’s submission and allowed Nayiga to continue with her testimony.

She then tendered the CD with two video clips one playing for more than an hour and another that lasted less than two minutes, which were displayed on the screens in the Court Hall showing exactly what Ssegirinya stated on his Facebook page. In one of the clips, Ssegirinya who was in court via zoom from Kigo prison is heard saying the exact statements that he is accused of by the state on the charge sheet.

However, during cross-examination, Malende asked Nayiga to tell the court exactly the meaning of genocide in Luganda, which is commonly used in the central region of the country. When asked the meaning of genocide, Nayiga said it means “Kyemwalaba e Rwanda mu 1994” sending the court in prolonged laughter.  This forced the lawyers to conclude that she is not a competent or certified person to offer transcription nor is her employer, the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation.

The lawyers also asked Nayiga to state the elements of diction and Oxymoron, since she had earlier stated that she studied literature and English. Nayiga, who told the court that she acquired one of her academic qualifications from Sweden didn’t answer this question.

This specific question was triggered by spelling mistakes in some of the words in her transcripts, which the lawyer argued change meaning when not properly written in their context. The State later presented a police officer as their second witness. He however couldn’t testify saying that they had a meeting to attend to. The magistrate adjourned the matter to March 22nd, 2022.

Ssegirinya has other unresolved charges of inciting violence pending before Buganda Road Magistrate’s Court in connection to his demonstration near Mini Price in March 2021 demanding the release of all political prisoners arrested in connection to the general elections. He is currently on remand on murder, attempted murder and aiding and abetting terrorism charges stemming from his alleged involvement in the Greater Masaka region machete killings, which claimed more than 20 lives between July and September 2021.

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