When someone is suspected of committing a crime, they are considered innocent until proven guilty. It is, therefore, their constitutional right to be granted bail. However, some suspects fail to fulfil the bail terms, while others flee the country, writes Michael Odeng
President Yoweri Museveni has on several occasions suggested that the law is too light on some suspects, particularly those with serious cases. His view is that such suspects should not be granted bail.
This point came to mind again when Chinese paedophile Yang Zhengjun, a man charged with aggravated child trafficking and defilement of three minors, was released on bail and has since disappeared.
His lawyer, Yunus Kasirivu, told court that his client has not been found yet and that his mobile phone is off. Court issued an international warrant of arrest against Zhengjun.
High Court judge, Lameck Mukasa, cancelled Zhengjun’s earlier bail to speed up the trial, but on April 2, this year, court granted Zhengjun sh100m cash bail.
This was soon cancelled during trial by High Court judge Rugadya Atwooki, who remanded Zhengjun to Luzira Prison.
When the matter reached the Court of Appeal, Justice Remmy Kasule reinstated the bail, pending the appeal. He said it was not proper for the High Court to cancel Zhengjun’s bail when he was fulfilling all the bail terms. Later, the suspect went missing. Incidents like this lead people to question the law.
“We need to put the rights of the community before the rights of the offender,” said Susan Okalany of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in a recent court interview.
The courts of law in Uganda have, on several occasions, extended an international warrant of arrest through the Uganda Police and Interpol for serious violent and sexual offenders for failing to meet bail conditions.
However, most of them have never been arrested. When bail is granted to such offenders, they are requested to deposit their passports in court, report to the deputy registrar of the High Court twice a month and are barred from travelling outside Uganda without court permission. However, they still find their way out.
Apart from Zhengjun, people like Shanita Namuyimba aka Bad Black, Zoe Bakoko Bakoru, the former gender, labour and social development minister and Mayuge district chairman Bakali Ikoba Tigawalana, among others, have disappeared despite the Police intensifying the hunt for them.
On December 7, 2012, Namuyimba was granted sh100m bail to go and receive treatment for her breast implants in Dubai. She has since not returned to continue serving her four-year jail term in Luzira Prison for embezzling sh11b from Davishan Development Ltd, a company she co-owned with her ex-lover.
The sureties have also never been arrested to answer for her whereabouts. Rumour has it that Bad Black has been sighted in Dubai and Indonesia, but has never been arrested.
Meanwhile, Bakoko Bakoru, who was charged with fraud, also failed to turn up on several occasions, even after Buganda Road Magistrate’s Court issued extended warrants of arrest.
She was jointly charged with former National Social Security Fund board chairman, Geoffrey Onegi Obel, and former managing director Leonard Mpuuma over a joint venture in which sh8b in members’ savings was lost. Bakoko Bakoru, who travelled to the US, has never turned up in court since then.
On December 17, 2009, the Mayuge district chairperson, Bakali Ikoba Tigawalana, woke up to the news that the Court of Appeal had found him guilty of murdering the campaign manager of his political rival.
Tigawalana was on bail awaiting sentencing, but mysteriously disappeared and has never been arrested to date.
What the experts say
Justice Paul Mugamba, head of the Anti-Corruption Court, says bail is a constitutional right, but it should be granted in exceptional circumstances such as advanced age and grave illness approved by doctors.
He adds that the suspect’s street address should be clearly pointed out.
“Before the Constitution was approved, we used to grant bail basing on exceptional circumstances. That is why such cases were not common,” he adds.
He says the suspect and the sureties should submit national identity cards which have particulars such as criminal record, driving permit and land registry data.
John Bosco Mudde, a lawyer with Ssensuwe and Co Advocates, says court has jurisdiction over bail, but capital offenders, especially influential men and women, should be remanded to prison until investigations are complete.
“This should help to avoid intimidation of witnesses and interference of court proceedings by the suspects. I think such offenders should be kept in custody pending trial to avoid interferences in court proceedings,” he adds.
Mudde adds that if such suspects are to be granted bail, the sureties presented in court should consist of important people in society, be fined huge amounts of money and present valuables such as land titles to avoid jumping bail.