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Stella Nyanzi’s lawyers protest hearing appeal case in judge’s chambers

Advocate Isaac Ssemakadde

Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT |  Lawyers representing Dr Stella Nyanzi have protested a decision by the Deputy Head of the Criminal Division of High Court, Lady Justice Flavia Anglin Senogaon to hear Nyanzi’s appeal in her chambers.

The appeals are scheduled for hearing today in the Judge’s private chambers, with the public and the press excluded.  

The first appeal, filed on August 15 by the embattled Makerere University researcher and activist, through the Centre for Legal Aid, seeks to quash her conviction and 18-months sentence for cyber harassment.

She challenges the August 1 verdict of Grade One Magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu Musenze at Buganda Road Court on ten grounds including the magistrate’s failure to accord her a fair trial and acting without jurisdiction.  

Dr Nyanzi’s conviction stemmed from an “impolite” birthday poem posted on her social media pages on September 16, 2018, a day after President Museveni’s 74th birthday.

The poem for which she was charged with the offences of cyber harassment and offensive communication under the computer misuse act had allegedly mocked President Museveni and his late mother Esteeri Kokundeka.

The second appeal filed also filed on August 15 by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) challenges Dr Nyanzi’s acquittal on the count of offensive communication.

DPP, through the Resident State Attorney at Buganda Road Court Janet Kitimbo, notes that Kamasanyu erred in law and fact when she held that the Facebook post in issue was not repeated and that the state did not prove that the said post had disturbed the peace, quiet or right to privacy of His excellency President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni with no purpose of legitimate communication.  

On September 25, Justice Senoga told the lawyers that the hearing of the two appeal cases would be heard in her chambers, a move that was strongly protested by Isaac Ssemakadde, the lead counsel for Dr Nyanzi.  

Justice Senoga then directed the lawyers to avail her with a law that bars her from hearing the two appeals in her chambers.

In the letter, Ssemakadde says it is a constitutional requirement for the Court to promote participation of the people in the administration of justice by conducting its proceedings in a public hearing observed by members of the press.  

“It is our considered position that any further in-camera proceedings will be unconstitutional, unlawful and invalid,” Ssemakadde says. 

Ssemakadde says “open justice” is a great principle that has previously been approved and relied upon by the High Court of Uganda, and that it can only be deviated from in special circumstances which don’t exist in Dr Nyanzi’s case.  

“It follows therefore that on 10th October 2019, we shall expect the two appeals to be heard in open court, and we shall appear ready to argue the appeals and any miscellaneous applications arising there-under in open court, including the applications to have proceedings or any part thereof conducted in-camera,” Ssemakadde vowed. 

Contacted on the eve of the hearing of the two appeals, Counsel Ssemakadde stated he was unaware of any response by Court regarding this matter.

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