By Michael Odeng
COURT reporters have petitioned the High Court challenging Buganda Road Chief Magistrates’ Court orders barring them from a case involving Inspector General of Police (IGP) Kale Kayihura spy tapes.
The journalists operating under their professional body UCRA complained that the chief magistrate Lillian Bucyana was violating their rights to disseminate important information to the public.
The Uganda Court Reporter’s Association through their lawyer, Isaac Ssemakadde from Legal Brain Trust (LTB) seeks High court orders quashing the chief magistrate’s orders.
They want the chief magistrate to avail them all the proceedings that have been heard on camera ever since they were barred from the case.
Journalists were barred from covering proceedings of the case on June 25 2014. The case involves stolen tapes in which NRM party youth were interviewed in an ongoing investigation into an alleged plot to assassinate Kayihura.
Lino Anguzu, the senior prosecutor is representing the state in the case where Ronald Poteri a detective Assistant Inspector of Police (D/AIP) attached to the Electoral and Political Crime Department, Kibuli, is charged with wrongful communication and leaking classified information to the Prime Minister’s wife, Jacqueline Mbabazi.
It is alleged that Poteri in March 2014 at Criminal Investigations and Intelligence Directorate (CIID) headquarters in Kampala did pass on confidential information to unauthorized persons. He was arrested on April 6, 2014 and charged on April 25.
In a sworn affidavit, Ssemakadde said the learned magistrate has no evidence to shows that media coverage of the trial would have prejudicial impact on all or any of the interests claimed by the prosecution. He added that the court acted on vague, unsubstantiated and hypothetical allegations, fears and suspicions raised by the State.
“Prosecution spuriously used national security and public interest immunity arguments to suppress information and stifle debate and the trial court condoned this abuse of process,” he said.
Ssemakadde said the learnt magistrate violated the rights and interests of the parties and the public on right to free expression, the right of the accused to a fair and public trial and the efficacy of the administration of justice.
He said there will be a substantial risk of miscarriage of justice in Poteri case and the trial is most likely to be challenged by the accused as a nullity and abuse of process.
Ssemakadde affirms that the matter is for political debate and the public has a legitimate interest in the case since the information allegedly leaked by the accused is connected to unlawful secret political activities of the IGP and abuses committed by high-ranking officials.
He said the trial court opted for a hearing of Poteri’s trial on camera not out of necessity but conveniences, hence amounting to application of a wrong principle and misuse of discretionary powers.
“The trial court unduly prioritized the privacy of witnesses over the rights of the media to freedom of expression and other material considerations underlying the open courts principle,” Ssemakadde added.
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