In a significant legal development, the Anti-Corruption Division of the High Court presided by Justice Jane Okuo Kajuga has issued a directive compelling the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to move forward with the prosecution of Minister for Karamoja Affairs Mary Goretti Kitutu.
The decision was reached on Tuesday when Justice Kajuga dismissed the application lodged by Minister Kitutu where she alleged that members and agents of the Uganda Police, the Parliamentary Committee on Presidential Affairs, the media and other state institutions subjected her to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment during the course of the investigations against her in the case of mismanagement of Karamoja iron sheets.
In her application, she alleged that she was arrested and detained in an ungazetted prison where she was kept for over two hours with no access to family or her lawyer. She was threatened and maltreated and later led out of the darkroom at Parliament, bungled into a waiting vehicle and recklessly driven to CID Kibuli where she was detained alone in a dark room, incommunicado.
The Minister also informed the court that while in that dark room, she was never given any water or food despite being held for the whole day so her health began to deteriorate. She claims this was purposed to break her down psychologically. While in the darkroom, a lady identifying herself as Beata Chelimo harshly communicated that she would not be able to return home as she had to show them the iron sheets.
Chelimo demanded that she hands over her personal phone which was now the subject of an investigation. She was never told the reason for her arrest and no summons, arrest warrant, search warrants, or court orders were secured to authorize her detention and searching of her phone records.
The Minister asserted that all these acts were unlawfully done on her and that her phone was accessed unlawfully until its return on 27th July 2023.
She avers that she was kept in illegal detention for three days until Thursday 6th April 2023 when she was produced in court and charged. Owing to the cruel degrading and inhuman treatment her health deteriorated and she was subsequently diagnosed with severe anxiety, severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Following her appearance in court, she instructed her lawyers to ask for full disclosure of all documents and exhibits relating to the distribution of iron sheets, but the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) declined to avail the exculpatory materials which violates her right to a fair hearing.
However, while making her ruling, Justice Kajuga dismissed all the allegations alluding that all the accused institutions in her application did not degrade her rights as she claimed but they were doing their job.
Justice Kajuga said; “There is no justification or ground for the applicant’s expectation that all the suspects in the iron sheets case should be treated exactly the same way. There is no indication that the cases against the applicant and the suspects not prosecuted are essentially the same requiring that all are either prosecuted or all are conversely set free and allowed to return the iron sheets.”
The court further found that the investigations into the alleged theft of iron sheets meant for the Karamoja Community Empowerment Program and the resultant criminal charges were not irreparably tainted with gross abuse of the applicant’s non-derogable rights. In addition, it found that the applicant’s non-derogable right to a fair hearing had not been violated through the denial of disclosure of exculpatory exhibits and documents in possession of the State.
That the media reporting in the iron sheets case had not irreparably violated the applicant’s right to a fair hearing. The court also found that members and agents of the Uganda Police, the Parliamentary Committee on Presidential Affairs and other state institutions did not subject the applicant to torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment during the course of their investigations against her.
Consequently, the court directed the trial against Hon. Kitutu Mary Goretti Kimono to proceed. The trial had stayed upon the applicant challenging the legality of events surrounding the investigation of the case against her.
Meanwhile, Minister Kitutu also doubles as the Woman Member of Parliament for Manafwa District. On 6th August 2023, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) charged her together with Abaho Joshua, Senior Assistant Secretary (OPM) and Naboya Kitutu Michael with the offences of Loss of Public Property and Conspiracy to Defraud. The charges relate to the alleged diversion of iron sheets for the Karamoja Community Empowerment Program.
The application was handled by Johnson Natuhwera – Senior State Attorney, Jacky Amusugut – State Attorney and Crispus Nakwera – State Attorney; in the Attorney General’s Chambers.
The court’s decision has underscored the gravity of the allegations against the minister and sets the stage for a closely watched legal process that could have far-reaching implications for Minister Kitutu’s political career.
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