After spending almost two years on remand at Makindye Military Prison, a senior army officer held for allegedly recruiting soldiers into rebel activities was released on Monday for lack of evidence.
Lt Col Deziderio Balidda attached to Field Artillery Division in Masindi District was on November 29, 2016 arraigned before the General Court Martial and charged with offences related to breaching national security.
The Lieutenant Colonel was jointly charged with Warrant Officer II Robert Wanyama and Pte Ivan Asiimwe, a gun repairer at the artillery base. They all pleaded not guilty. He was also accused of disclosing secret information to unauthorized people.
The alleged offences attract a maximum sentence of death upon conviction. Court chairman, Lt Gen Andrew Gutti, remanded them to military custody pending trial. On Monday, Maj Raphael Mugisha, announced in court that on July 5 he received a nolle prosecui (instructions to withdraw the charges) from the Army Director of Prosecutions.
“Mr Chairman and members of court, the director of prosecution has instructed me not to continue with the charges against all the three accused persons because the state has failed to gather pinning evidence against them,” Mugisha said to the joy of the suspects.
However, the new Judge Advocate, Col Richard Tukacungura, warned the suspects not to take the withdrawal for granted because they could be re-charged if evidence is obtained.
Lt Gen Gutti then set them free. It has been State’s contention that while in Naguru and Ntinda suburbs of Kampala and in Masindi, the accused recruited soldiers and disclosed secret information to unauthorised persons with intent to prejudice the security of the defence forces.
Already, other soldiers are facing similar charges in the same court. Among them is Lt Col Philip Frank Eguma, formerly of the Armoured Warfare Training School in Mubende District, who is held for allegedly attempting to attack Kabamba Army Barracks.
In another case, 19 suspects, including junior army officers and civilians are on trial for the failed attack on Gulu army detach and Gulu Central Police Station.
Section 130 of the UPDF Act provides that a person, subject to military law, who discloses by word of mouth or by document, confidential information to the enemy or to unauthorized members of the defence forces or the public, commits an offence and if convicted is liable to suffer death on conviction.
In the same court Col Robert Ochama also made the number of soldiers released when his application for bail was granted at Shs 10 million not cash. Each of his two sureties were ordered to execute Shs 5m still not cash bond and make sure that he reports to the court registrar twice a month until further notice.
Ochama who was among the 700 army officers promoted in November 2013 is charged with destruction, loss or improper disposal of property.
“You are also ordered not to leave the boundaries of Kampala and Wakiso districts without this court’s approval. Failure to fulfill any of the orders, may lead to cancellation of your bail,” Gutti said.
Meanwhile, court ordered the re- trial of a murder case in which three soldiers were convicted in a record time of one day. Ten witnesses were presented when PC Canon Nkamuhabwa, L/ Cpl Johnson Abaasa and Pte Abei Katsigazi were arraigned before a Unit Disciplinary Court in Sembabule on July 22, 2017 and charged with murder, and aiding or abetting commission of offence.
They pleaded not guilty to the prosecution’s allegation that on July 20, 2017 they went to Sembabule town in a vehicle driven by Abaasa and found a group of people in a shop whom they provoked into a scuffle.
Paul Tumukende was allegedly gunned down by Nkamuhabwa when he tried to defend himself. They were arrested that same day and their trial commenced two days later at the scene of the crime.
Nkamuhabwa was sentenced to death in the case of murder and handed 15 years imprisonment on other counts. But both Abaasa and Katsigazi were each sentenced to 15 years and five years for aiding commission of the offence and conspiracy, respectively.
In one of their grounds of appeal in the General Court Martial, the convicts said the trial court erred in law and fact by not granting them a fair trial.
Nkamuhabwa and Abaasa contend that the sentence passed was harsh, excessive and illegal. In his ruling, Gutti, quashed the trial, conviction and sentencing. He said there were breaches and violation of the appellants’ rights.
“The interest of justice requires that the appellants be retried. The retrial would serve the interests of both the appellants and the complainants. In the result, we allow the appeal in part and hereby order a retrial before the Division Court Martial of Army General Headquarters Bombo...,” ruled Gutti.
The court chairman also found that among others, prosecution witnesses refused to testify under oath thereby contravening section 40 of the Trial and Indictment Act (TIA).
“It is also our finding that appellant No 3 [Katsigazi] is illegally detained since no sentence was awarded. The respondent [prosecution led by Maj Raphael Mugisha] prayed for retrial. It is our duty not only to ensure that appellants’ rights are not violated but also the victims of the offence are accorded justice,” Gutti ruled.