Zaake dismissal to be probed by global body

Mityana Municipality MP Francis Zaake (right) and his lawyer Erias Lukwago address the media after petitioning the Constitutional Court challenging his dismissal as Commissioner of Parliament  on March 17. PHOTO/  ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • Last month, 155 legislators voted to remove Mr Zaake from the Parliamentary Commission over accusations of disparaging then Deputy Speaker Anita Among.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has asked its Human Rights Committee to send a delegation to Uganda to launch fresh investigations into circumstances under which Mityana Municipality lawmaker Francis Zaake ceased being commissioner of Uganda’s legislative body.
The Geneva-based assembly of national parliaments—to which Uganda is signatory—made the recommendation following a sitting on March 24. 

This is one of a string of recommendations that the Uganda-bound delegation will be expected to execute.
The delegation—expected in Uganda “as soon as possible”—will meet with all authorities exercising legislative, executive or judicial powers in Uganda, as well as any other non-state actors such as individuals and civil society organisations.

“The council of IPU expressed grave concern about information received on steps taken to remove Mr Zaake from the Parliamentary Commission as a result of statements made on social media; reaffirms that the freedom of expression of parliamentarians, including through their social media platforms, is a cornerstone of a democratic society, and that it is crucial for parliamentarians to be able to express their opinions unhampered and without fear of reprisal,” a report following the sitting reads in part.

Dismissal questioned
Last month, 155 legislators voted to remove Mr Zaake from the Parliamentary Commission over accusations of disparaging then Deputy Speaker Anita Among. Ms Among has since replaced deceased Jacob Oulanyah as the House Speaker.
After two weeks of investigation, the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline had recommended that Mr Zaake apologise to the House. It held that the conduct of the National Unity Platform (NUP) party legislator was not proper and that it amounted to misbehaviour and misconduct. This recommendation was, however, reviewed to a censure motion that was overwhelmingly adopted by the House.
Mr Zaake later petitioned the Constitutional Court, seeking to—among others—overturn his removal from the position. 

Now, the IPU has interested itself in his case, saying: “…even where speech can legitimately be sanctioned, an excessively harsh sanction, on its own, could represent a breach of the right to freedom of expression and exert a chilling effect on others, thereby deterring them from engaging even in legitimate speech.”
Mr Chris Obore, the director of communication and public affairs of Parliament, , told Sunday Monitor that they were ready to furnish the delegation from the assembly with all necessary information.

“IPU is a peer review organisation and we hope they have not made a conclusion before hearing from both sides. The Committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline, where Hon Zaake appeared, did their investigations in the open and they did not hide anything and the information is present. Even if they came now, we are ready to give them all this information,” Mr Obore said.
He added: “But I have not seen this report. If it is there, the Clerk to Parliament will provide me with the details and we shall respond with facts.”

Unproductive first visit
Between January 25 and January 29, 2020, an IPU committee delegation conducted an on-site mission to Uganda. 
According to its report, despite a specific request, the delegation was not able to obtain concrete information on possible ongoing cases against police officers in connection with allegations of torture against five MPs, who sustained injuries during the Arua Municipality by-elections.
The committee sought to investigate matters concerning the torture of Mr Zaake, Mr Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu alias Bobi Wine (Kyadondo East), Kassiano Wadri (Arua Municipality), Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality) and Paul Mwiru (Jinja East).

If IPU overturns the parliamentary decision, this will be the second time Mr Zaake will be getting off the hook after being red flagged in the House. 
In 2019, he won a case of assault against Makerere University Vice Chancellor Barnabas Nawangwe. 
Prof Nawangwe had petitioned the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline following incidents that happened after a committee sitting in Parliament.
Meanwhile, the IPU also asked that all the authorities in the country respect the rights of incarcerated lawmakers Allan Ssewanyana (Makindye West, NUP) and Muhammad Ssegirinya (Kawempe North, NUP).

“The governing council of IPU is deeply concerned about the continued detention of the MPs,” the report reads, adding: “In view of the worrying allegations concerning their conditions of detention and mistreatment while in custody, and the alleged deterioration in their state of health; urges the national authorities to take all necessary steps to ensure Mr Ssewanyana and Mr Ssegirinya’s full enjoyment of their rights, in particular their right to life, to physical integrity and to access to judicial guarantees, and that they receive the necessary medical care.”

Mathias Mpuuga, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP). PHOTO/FILE

During a visit to Kigo Prisons on Good Friday, Mr Mathias Mpuuga, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament (LoP)—indicated that the health of the two MPs needs urgent medical attention. 
He said Mr Ssegirinya had an abnormally swollen belly and legs, while Mr Ssewanyana looked anaemic and weak.

“Three days ago, Hon Ssegirinya fell unconscious while in the bathroom and was rushed to the prison’s clinic. Painkillers and antibiotics is all that the facility could give him,” Mr Mpuuga said in a statement.
Ms Joyce Bagala (Mityana Woman, NUP), who was part of the team that visited the incarcerated MPs, told Sunday Monitor that she observed general deteriorating health of her colleagues.

“There is need to give urgent medical care to our colleagues. I saw them in a worrying health state this afternoon and I call upon those who are charged with their wellbeing to leap in.,” she said.
The duo is battling seven counts—including murder, attempted murder and aiding and abetting terrorism—following the spate of killings in Greater Masaka Sub-region that left close to 30 people dead between May and July last year.