Freedom City stampede: Abitex slapped with more charges, granted bail

Events organiser Abbey Musinguzi, aka Abitex (left), and his co-accused Elvis Francis Jjuuko in the dock at the Magistrate’s Court in Makindye, Kampala on January 10, 2022. PHOTO / ABUBAKER LUBOWA.  

What you need to know:

  • The events organiser and his co-accused now face 13 counts of rash or negligent act causing death of 11 people and bodily harm to two others over the New Year eve stampede at Freedom City Mall

The Magistrate’s Court has slapped four fresh charges against events organiser Abbey Musinguzi, alias Abitex, before granting him bail.
Abitex, 52, together with Mr Elvis Francis Jjuuko, a businessman, had appeared before Grade One Magistrate in Makindye, Kampala, for the hearing of their bail application. However, prosecution handed court an amended charge sheet bringing up four new charges against Abitex.
The two now face 13 counts of rash or negligent act causing death of 11 people and bodily harm of two people over the New Year eve tragic stampede at Freedom City Mall in Wakiso, to which they pleaded not guilty.

Given bail
Magistrate Igga Adiru granted Abitex and Jjuuko cash bail of Shs2m, and their sureties a non-cash bond of Shs20m.
“The right to apply for bail is premised with the presupposition of innocence. The accused person’s herein, having pleaded not guilty to the charges against them, are still presumed innocent until the contrary is proven,” Mr Adiru ruled.

“The State had noted that the applicants may abscond trial if released on bail, however I wish to agree with the counsel of the applicants that asking the Local Council one chairman to draft this introductory letter like the way the State wants it done will be asking too much and my view is that this letter should primarily introduce the surety to court and the other information is secondary,” he added.
Mr Adiru also ruled that he was not satisfied with the state’s argument that the applicants will interfere with the ongoing inquiries. 

Through their lawyer Erias Lukwago, the two raised six grounds to be released on bail pending the hearing of their case.
The grounds included having fixed places of abode, substantial sureties and have no capacity to interfere with the investigations. 
However, the prosecution led by Ms Carol Apio had objected to the bail application, arguing that there was a likelihood of the applicants absconding if granted bail, introductory letters of some of the sureties did not indicate that they were being addressed to court or show that they were sureties.   
The case has been adjourned to February 7.

Prosecution alleges that Abitex, Jjuuko and others still at large, as the organisers of the New Year event on December 31, 2022, and January 1, 2023, at Freedom City Mall in Namasuba, Wakiso District, in a manner of rash or neglect, as to endanger human life, caused the death of 11 people and harmed two by making abrupt announcement to revellers to move out from the venue to the parking yard to watch fireworks.
The prosecution accuses Abitex of closing other outlets of the venue, leaving only one small gate which could not allow the more than 20,000 people move out easily or safely, hence causing the death of some of them.

The deceased include Daniel Kibuuka, Ibrahim Kizito, Hakimati Nazama, Viola Nakanwagi, Mary Namyalo, Hadja Nakakande, Shafik Mwanje, Margaret Nakatumba, Brain Musenero and Najura Kawusala. Those injured are Aruna Buyondo and Sauda Nakalega.
It’s alleged that before 2023 could be ushered in, the emcee at the Freedom City Mall event announced and asked the revellers to move out and watch the fireworks. 

This saw more than 20,000 revellers, who were inside the mall, dash to get out through one exit out of the six outlets since the five were reportedly closed with padlocks. 
Preliminary investigations show that given the small exit, revellers, mainly children, fainted and died in the process. Some died on the spot, while others died later in health facilities where they had been rushed for treatment.