By The Insight Post Uganda
After an intense and chaotic month-long ordeal, the police have finally bowed to pressure and arraigned in court two of the nine suspects in the Mukono fisherman Fred Ntambi’s murder.
Ntambi, a resident of Kizaala-Buganda in Katosi town council Mukono District, was attacked, tortured and murdered on March 23, 2023, at Mbeya Island landing site at Mpunge sub-county.
This development has offered a glimmer of justice to a case that had triggered widespread outrage and disorder within the fishing community on the island.
The escalating protests forced the police to search and arrest nine individuals believed to be involved in Ntambi’s murder. The Duo has been held in custody at Jinja Road Police Station since April 18, 2023.
Other suspects including Abudul Ssempiira, the Mbeya LCI Vice Chairperson, Yasin Kasirye, the Mbeya LCI Secretary, Richard Ngoobi, Annet Amuron, Sanyu Digonda, Abudul Mugisha and others were released on a police bond.
Nevertheless, only two of the suspects, namely Jackson Sebitosi, aged 28, and Bernard Mateke, aged 36, have appeared before the court presided over by Grade One Magistrate Elizabeth Peace Lamono. They were subsequently sent to Luzira prison and are scheduled to reappear in court on June 1, 2023.
It is unclear why the media was denied access to the courtroom to cover the proceedings. Still, during their arraignment, reporters were explicitly instructed not to capture any photographs of the suspects while inside the court premises.
To ensure their directives were followed, another Grade One Magistrate, Paul Mutyame took it upon himself and deployed armed police officers within the court premises to chase the journalists away.
Due to the severity of their crime, the suspects were denied the opportunity to enter a plea.
Based on the police’s recorded statements, Sebitosi and Mateke confessed to assaulting Ntambi but stated that they left him alive before departing the scene.
They assert that they have no knowledge of what occurred afterwards. Furthermore, they accuse Yasin Kasirye of masterminding their actions.
However, in his statement to the police, Kasirye refuted the allegations claiming that he was present at the crime scene to prevent the mob from lynching Ntambi.
A police constable who preferred anonymity informed this website that the suspects were released by Justus Twongirwe then Regional CID Kampala Metropolitan Police East two weeks ago after paying a substantial bribe, just before he was transferred to Kasese.
Florence Namujju, the sister of the deceased, expresses her relief and calls upon the justice system to ensure that all individuals responsible for the crime are held accountable.
The media has castigated the Magistrates’ behaviour of blocking them from following the case. By obstructing their access, the Magistrate effectively limited the dissemination of information to the public, hindering the transparency and accountability that the media strives to uphold.
Moreover, this incident has raised concerns about the role of the judiciary in safeguarding the freedom of the press.
Journalistic organisations and advocates for press freedom argue that such actions set a dangerous precedent, potentially leading to a chilling effect on investigative reporting and the public’s right to know.
They emphasise the vital role played by the media in keeping the public informed and holding institutions accountable, asserting that any infringement upon their ability to report on matters of public interest is a detriment to society as a whole.
Proposed Journalists Accreditation
Last month, the judiciary moved to accredit journalists to cover court proceedings which raised serious concerns about press freedom and the right to freedom of expression.
Maintaining order and good behaviour in courtrooms worldwide is crucial for the effective administration of justice. However, it is important to strike a balance between upholding decorum and ensuring press freedom is not compromised.
The recent proposal to accredit journalists in Uganda has sparked concerns and raised red flags among media professionals. Accreditation processes could potentially limit journalists’ ability to hold those in power accountable by allowing the judiciary to control the narrative of court proceedings. This could result in a constrained flow of information and hinder the public’s right to access timely and accurate reporting.
Furthermore, these measures erode the principles of press freedom and freedom of expression, both of which are fundamental rights in any democratic society. Such restrictions on the press are often associated with authoritarian regimes and are not in alignment with the democratic principles that Uganda has committed to uphold.