Six journalists and Brig. Nakibus Lakaraâ€™s lawyer, Caleb Alaka, were yesterday convicted by the Court Martial for contempt of court without being formally charged.
The New Vision Editor-in-Chief, William Pike, The Monitor managing editor, John Baptist Wasswa, reporters; Steven Candia and Maurice Okore of The New Vision and Monitorâ€™s Solomon Muyita and Jennifer Nakalema escaped prison after paying a sh1,000 fine each.
The journalists had been summoned to the court at Makindye to show cause why they should not be charged for contempt.
On Thursday, the two newspapers said Lakara, a former Chief of Staff, had raised objection to his charge sheet being signed by Col. Noble Mayombo because he was junior to him.
The papers reported that Lakara said the charges could only be lawfully signed by a commanding officer of a rank higher than his.
The journalists were surprised when the court chairman, Lt. Gen. Elly Tumwine, put them in the dock before formally charging them or allowing them to enter plea.
The defence lawyers, who said the summons were issued at short notice, argued in vain to have their clients charged and give them chance to prepare their defence.
After the conviction, the New Vision counsel, Robert Kabushenga and James Nangwala for The Monitor applied for the proceedings so that they could take further steps.
The journalists and Alaka have vowed to appeal against the conviction and challenge the proceedings, which they said were meant to intimidate them.
The court said the journalists flouted an earlier order that barred them from attending the trials.
The order was issued after Prosecutor Sam Serwanga applied for a closed hearing, saying the evidence given could jeopardise state security.
The journalists told court that they did not publish any information from the trial because the trial had not started and what they wrote about was just the technical objection by Lakara.
They said there was nothing in the articles that touched on UPDF troop deployment, intelligence information or communication between the High Command and senior officers in operation areas.
Tumwine forced the journalists to reveal the source of their information. The journalists said they overheard the lawyers consulting each other on the proceedings.
Alaka, who told court that he had actually discussed with his colleagues and client, was promptly ordered to the dock and convicted together with the journalists.
Alaka protested to the President of the Uganda Law Society. â€œI think prosecution having failed to get an appropriate answer for my objection, chose to misdirect court.
â€œThe proceedings of today against the journalists were uncalled for because the order did not cover matters of law and unfortunately the Court Martial doesnâ€™t know how to deal with lawyers who handle clients before it,â€ Alaka said.
ARMY COURT releases journalists