KAMPALA- The Constitutional Court has dismissed a petition about the 2011 Walk to Work protests in which the petitioners sought a declaration that it was unconstitutional for the State to charge the suspects with treason for merely protesting against the high cost of living after the 2011 polls.
The petition had been filed by Foundation for Human Rights Initiative on behalf of the Walk to Work political activists. The judges said it was filed in a wrong court because there was nothing in the petition that required constitutional interpretation.
The petition was dismissed on a 3:2 majority decision of the court last week.
The petition had been filed on behalf of Forum for Democratic Change’s Ingrid Turinawe, Sam Mugumya and Francis Mwijukye (now Buhweju County MP).
“I have already pointed out the particulars of the charges brought against the arrested complainants who do not support the claim that they were arrested for involvement in a peaceful Walk to Work protests. In any case, even if the arrests were done in response to such involvement, it would not have necessitated petitioning the Constitutional Court because this was not a matter for the interpretation of the constitution,” Deputy Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo ruled.
“It follows from this position of the law that this ground of the petition presents nothing for interpretation of the Constitution and therefore, for the reasons discussed herein over circumstances whether this court has jurisdiction, the petition should fail,” he added.
Further in his majority decision, Justice Owiny-Dollo observed that the charges of treason against Walk to Work protesters were lawful since they were provided for under the law.
He added that since the State later lost interest in the case, the aggrieved political activists would have filed a lawsuit in the High Court seeking redress for wrongful arrest and detention. Other justices on the majority decision were Ezekiel Muhanguzi and Christopher Madrama.
Those who dissented and held that the acts of the State of slapping treason charges on peaceful demonstrators for walking to work were unconstitutional were Fredrick Egonda Ntende and Remmy Kasule.
Right to freedom
Mr Medard Sseggona, who represented the petitioners, had argued that the act of charging political activists with treason is unconstitutional because it denies them their rights to free movement, assembly and association.
Mr Sseggona had further submitted that the State’s acts were merely calculated to have political activists who were critical about the high cost of living, detained in prison.
The arguments by Mr Sseggona were adopted by Justice Egonda in his dissenting judgment.
“Freedom of expression is a cornerstone upon which the very existence of a society rests. The State should refrain from restricting or hindering citizens from exercising their freedom of expression through unlawful arrests and detain them on concocted charges. This amounts to political persecution,” Justice Egonda ruled.