It is a case that has attracted varied interest and drawn a lot of public attention. When Brig. Henry Tumukunde, a senior army officer and former head of Uganda’s Internal Security Organisation (ISO) made his first appearance at the General Court Martial in Makindye, he was 44. The bespectacled one star general is now 52.
Such is the stretch of a trial that that has been presided over by no less than five chairpersons, including generals Elly Tumwine, Ivan Koreta, Brig. Bernard Rwehururu, Brig. Charles Angina and Brig. Fred Tolit, who has been handed the task of closing and determining the fate of this curious case.
Brig. Tolit will rule today, eight years later, on whether to convict Brig Tumukunde or set him free of charges of insubordination and spreading harmful propaganda.
For eight years now, Brig. Tumukunde, a former close confidant and in-law of President Museveni, has not travelled beyond the city without seeking permission from the military, one of conditions set against him by the military authorities.
On his part, Brig. Tumukunde has expressed his frustration with the frequent adjournments of his case.
“I am no longer worried about going to Luzira but to be in this court? When I came to court, my son was in senior one but he is now working,” said Brig. Tumukunde.But what got him into trouble?
It all started in 2005 when the former spymaster was arraigned in court for allegedly conflicting with what the army said were laws governing the military. He was subsequently incarcerated for 18 months at the senior military officer’s mess in Kololo. He was charged with spreading harmful propaganda, and indicted for conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline.
The charges to which he was arraigned in court on May 30, 2005 are in connection with a 2005 radio talk show he participated in. His problems stem from open criticism of President Museveni’s leadership and comments critical to the move to amend the 1995 to delete presidential term limits.
After his incarceration, Brig. Tumukunde was to be released on bail but not before depositing his passport in court. A restricted man, he has had to apply to court every time he has ventured to travel abroad. Although, he made no cash deposit to the court, Brig. Tumukunde has been reporting to the registrar of the court every month since.
Brig. Tumukunde, an enrolled advocate of the High Court and a former MP representing the army has also not attended a single training nor received any promotion since his troubles started.
During the trial hearing, prosecution presented three witnesses to pin Brig. Tumukunde. They include Col. Felix Kulayigye the former army and defence spokesman who has since been elevated to the position of the Political Commissar in the army, Mr Ronald Kabugo (Makerere University Lecturer) and one Pt Zacharia an operative from ISO who recorded an audio tape for the talk show in which the accused allegedly made the claims.
Court heard that the then spy chief, without authorisation from appropriate authorities, appeared on a Radio One talk show hosted by Mr David Mushabe and uttered statements prejudicial to order and discipline of the army.
Brig. Tumukunde denies any wrong doing. He opted to maintain silence during the trial hearing when asked to defend himself against the allegations.
Appearing before Brig. Tolit, the senior army officer through his attorneys, who include city lawyer Oscar Kambona argued that prosecution infringed upon his right to a speedy trial when they failed to prosecute the matter within the shortest time possible, as provided for in the law.
The man who at one time gave the court an ultimatum of January this year to determine his fate, held that there was no evidence brought to put the accused person at the scene of crime, Radio One and that neither did they call an expert to verify the voice of the tapes recorded.
His trial, has been described by legal experts as abuse of human rights.
Mr Livingstone Sewanyana, a human rights activist says Brig. Tumukunde’s trial has been a breach of the right to fair trial. “We have always argued that justice delayed is justice denied. In case of a conviction, this is a ground of appeal,” he said.
Mr Sewanyana said the delay in concluding this case has led to an erosion of justice and added that this case is testimony of the failure of the military justice system.
“The person in question has not been able to express himself freely during the entire period of trial which is also a breach of his fundamental right (freedom of expression),” he said.
He said an eight year trial of a senior army officer is a demonstration of a high degree of political intolerance.
“It is time for the establishment to embrace avenues for peaceful methods of resolving conflicts without washing their dirty linen in public,” said Mr Sewanyana.