Museveni signals intention to hang 5

Inmates of Luzira Maximum Prison assemble for an address last year. The President has asked for names of at least five prisoners on death row to be hanged. PHOTO BY ERIC DOMINIC BUKENYA

President Museveni asked for names of at least five prisoners on death row so he could sign their death warrants and have them hanged four months after publicly threatening to resume execution of capital offenders sentenced to death, Sunday Monitor has learnt.

Credible sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told this newspaper that sometime in April, the President asked the Attorney General (AG), Mr William Byaruhanga, to send him names of at least five inmates eligible for hanging.

The Attorney General communicated the President’s request to the Uganda Prisons Service which informed him that there were no eligible death row convicts as majority either had their death sentences commuted to life or have not exhausted the appeal process and had their sentences confirmed by the Supreme Court, a legal prerequisite before one is processed for the gallows.

The Attorney General, the chief legal advisor of government, under Article 121(1) (a) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, chairs the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy which consists of six prominent citizens appointed by the President.

In accordance with Article 121(5) of the Constitution, where a person is sentenced to death for an offence, a written report of the case from the trial judge or judges or person presiding over the court or tribunal, together with such other information derived from the record of the case or elsewhere is submitted to the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy.

The committee then forwards to the President these names and the President may, on the advice of the committee, grant to any person convicted of an offence a pardon either free or subject to lawful conditions, a respite, either indefinite or for a specified period, from the execution of punishment imposed on him or her for an offence or substitute a less severe form of punishment for a punishment imposed on a person for an offence.

It is against this background that the President requested the AG to establish if there were eligible death row convicts for him to order their hanging.

No written instruction yet
When contacted on Tuesday, Mr Byaruhanga said: “Now where did you get that information? Who is your source? What is true is that the President made a remark in public due to the impunity with which murders are being committed, it might be necessary to hang some people but you may want to know that we haven’t been hanging them partly because of the Susan Kigula case and others are yet to have their sentences confirmed by the Supreme Court.”
Asked to respond to the specific request the President made, he said, “Surely an instruction of that magnitude would be in writing. Have you seen a letter from the President to that effect? Is that an instruction he can give orally? I am not aware!”

In January Mr Museveni, while presiding over the pass out ceremony of 706 prison warders and wardresses and 213 non-commissioned officers at Luzira Prisons grounds, threatened to revive hanging of convicted criminals sentenced to death.

Mr Museveni said: “I believe that this lenience is becoming a problem. I am going to revise this and hang a few. We must hang some of these people because if you see how they kill people, they deserve to be killed”.
“It turns out that the President was not making a public threat and actually meant it. He wanted to start with five people,” a State House source told this reporter.

Responding to an appeal by the Commissioner General of Prisons, Dr Johnson Byabashaija, for the government to increase funding for education of prisoners as a strategy of ensuring rehabilitation of convicts, the President retorted then, “The idea of education for prisoners is a very good one but I do not know whether the ones (convicts) we are going to hang will benefit from that arrangement.”

Dr Byabashaija was not available for a comment and his aide referred this newspaper to the institution’s spokesman, Mr Frank Baine who said, “I am not aware of that development because in any case, we submit names to the Prerogative of Mercy Committee and there are six categories including those who qualify for pardon, those who have completed their appeal processes, capital offenders with six months remaining, the elderly (above 60 years), terminally ill, suckling mothers and minor offenders.”

He added: “The Attorney General chairs that committee and some are pardoned while others hanged 72 hours after the issuance of the order by the President to the AG who passes it to the Commissioner General of Prisons who transfers the same to the officer in-charge who reads it to the prisoner, their relatives are allowed to speak to them and they make a will then they are put to rest. So far we have only one eligible death row convict in our prisons. The others are yet to know their fate.”

Uganda last hanged a convict sentenced to death in 1999 and Mr Museveni is said to have informally vowed never to sign a death warrant again after he ordered for the hanging of former National Security Agency (NASA) agent under President Milton Obote II government, Musa Sebirumbi, and 27 other condemned prisoners.

Sebirumbi, also former UPC chairman for Luweero, was convicted in 1989 of the murder of five people who refused to reveal the whereabouts of NRA guerrillas led by Gen Museveni.

Sebirumbi’s victims included Matayo Nkanjirwa, Festo Kibuuka, Kibirige and an unknown policeman.

Defending government’s decision to execute Sebirumbi, whom he described as a criminal who deserved death, Mr Museveni while speaking on Labour Day in Fort Portal in 1999, said the convict had appealed to the Advisory Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy, which turned his plea down, “Wherever he sent his victims, he should go.”

Since then, the President literally put aside his execution pen in a drawer and threw the key in the sea. Almost two decades later, with rampant systematic killings ravaging Kampala and neighboring districts, the President, sources say, “is now determined to get the hangman at Luzira prison busy”.

In January 2006 a few days to the general election, then Attorney General, Prof Khiddu Makubuya, chaired the Committee on the Prerogative of Mercy and forwarded a list of death row convicts the President should pardon and at least four convicts to be hanged.
The President signed the death warrants which were delivered to the Uganda Prisons Service by his then private secretary Amelia Kyambadde.

The law
Under the law the convicts who included former Tooro Kingdom Prime Minister Charles Katuramu and a relative of businessman Gordon Wavamuno had 72 hours to be executed.

Aware that the President had since the hanging of Sebirumbi made an unwritten pact not to execute another Ugandan and in consideration of the political circumstances at the time, especially the profile of the convicts set for hanging, Dr Byabashaija, sources in State House say, contacted an aide of the President to cross check if indeed the head of state stood by the death warrants and meant to have the convicts executed in light of the political context of the time, especially a few days to the election and the profile of those to hang.

Dr Byabashaija declined to comment on this account of history.
When an aide conferred with the President and presented the dilemma the chief jailer was developing migraine over, the President reportedly admitted he could not put his head around how he signed the warrants and asked that they be rescinded, and later wrote to the Attorney General to halt the execution. All this happening in the window of 72 hours by which the convicts had to be hanged.

Toyed with execution
Another execution the President toyed with was that of former Obote II security minister Mr Chris Rwakasisi, a key architect of the 1980-1985 Obote administration sentenced to death and later pardoned by President Museveni after more than two decades on the death row. Rwakasisi has openly shared that the President told him upon his release, “just as he was about to sign my death warrant a voice from God told him not to do so.”

Should the Supreme Court confirm the death sentences of some of the 163 convicts being processed through the different stages of criminal appeals, the President will have eligible candidates for the gallows and return a practice earlier abandoned in 1999. Uganda would in effect find itself at the receiving end of criticism from human rights groups like Amnesty International which have led the chorus against the death penalty on account of what they argue, “represents an unacceptable denial of human dignity and integrity.

It is irrevocable, and where criminal justice systems are open to error or discrimination, the death penalty will inevitably be inflicted on the innocent”.

Before the Supreme Court landmark decision in Attorney General v Susan Kigula & 417 others (Constitutional Appeal No. 03 of 2006) Ugandan law made it compulsory for anyone convicted of murder to suffer death by hanging but the highest court in the land, taking room for mitigation, ordered that judges be given discretion to determine the appropriate sentence.

The death penalty remains in our law books but at the discretion of the courts which, as jurisprudence grows, are now compelled to factor mitigation factors during sentencing, leaving the death penalty for extreme cases.

Kigula, whose death sentence was accordingly, upon mitigation commuted to a lesser period in jail, had argued that the long delay between the pronouncement by court of the death sentence and the actual execution, allows for the death row syndrome to set in so the carrying out of the death sentence after such a long delay constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment contrary to the Constitution and that Section 99(1) of the Trial on Indictments Act which provides for hanging as the legal mode of carrying out the death sentence, is cruel, inhuman and degrading contrary to Articles 24 and 44 of the Constitution.

The court agreed with her and held that a delay beyond three years after a death sentence has been confirmed by the highest appellate court is inordinate so those condemned prisoners who had been on death row for three years and above after their sentences had been confirmed by the highest appellate court, could not have the death sentence carried out.

It is against this background that our prisons now have only one eligible candidate for the hangman.

In other news, this newspaper has learnt that Uganda’s long serving hangman who had since retired but was available for the job on contract, died three weeks ago and was buried in a classified ceremony.

100 executions
Mr Baine confirmed, ‘Yes the hangman died but he had retired though he would be called in depending on whether there was work to do but he worked as a team and even then if there are people to hang we advertise, usually internally and people willingly apply since there is good money for the execution job.” Government is now in the process of recruiting another hangman.

In an earlier interview with New Vision newspaper published on October 21, 2014, the China trained hangman, then aged 55, whose identity was concealed said he had executed more than 100 in his career and boasted that he had mastered the art of killing without causing pain.

“A person I hang never kicks around while dying. He dies immediately with almost no discomfort. The art lies in how you tie the knot that crushes the neck. Not everybody can do that,” he explained to New Vision.