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Karamoja iron sheets: Court okays minister Kitutu to cross-examine state witnesses

Minister Mary Goretti Kitutu

Minister Mary Goretti Kitutu

The High court has allowed an application by the Karamoja Affairs minister, Mary Gorreti Kitutu to cross-examine government witnesses in a case, where she is challenging her trial for the diversion of iron sheets.

Kitutu is challenging her trial on grounds of torture and several human rights violations inflicted on her while in police custody for three days.

She is jointly charged with her brother Michael Naboya Kitutu and her personal assistant Joshua Abaho. The prosecution alleges that between June 2022 and January 2023 at the office of the Prime Minister's stores, Namanve, Mukono district, Kitutu caused the loss of 9,000 prepainted government iron sheets meant for the Karamoja Community Empowerment Program by diverting them to her own benefit and third parties.

It is also alleged that while at the same place, in January 2023, Kitutu and Abaho diverted 5,500 iron sheets for unrelated purposes, which ended up in the hands of third parties yet he was charged with the duty of keeping them in safe custody. According to the prosecution, Kitutu's brother Naboya received 100 pieces of iron sheets while in Namisindwa district, which were part of those that the minister and Abaho had connived to divert. 

On Tuesday, Kitutu through her lawyers Jude Byamukama, John Musiime, and Dr. Akampumuza asked the Anti-Corruption court judge, Jane Okuo Kajuga to allow them to cross-examine the witnesses who swore affidavits opposing the trial for the real truth to come out. Byamukama argued that the information in the affidavits contravened the accusations levied against them by Kitutu. He explained that the purpose of the cross-examination is among others to test credibility, which is critical to the applicant's objection to the trial.

Byamukama said her client complained that she was tortured and mistreated in various ways by the investigating agencies while the  Attorney General's witnesses claim that she was given VIP treatment while in detention. This, he said, is an area that requires clarity from the four police officers and an explanation as to why Kitutu was driven in the wee hours of the night from Kibuli to Kira and not in any other detention facility in town. 

The lawyers further said that one of the witnesses; Soweli Muhammad has different ranks, different names with different spellings, and different force numbers and is also said to be attached to CID, Internal Security Organization (ISO), and State House. The lawyers argued that they wanted to establish the credibility, reliability, and variability of witnesses through cross-examination, adding that they were not in any way buying or wasting the court's time by doing so.

However, in response, in a rare occurrence, the Attorney General who had lined up a team of five state attorneys including Johnson Natuhwera, Jackie Amusugut, Chrispus Nampwera, Jonathan Muwaganya, and David Bisamunyu asked the court to dismiss the application, arguing that it was intended to waste court's time. Led by Natuhwera, the state attorneys said the right to cross-examination can only be granted by the court, and therefore it is not absolute.

He said when the court issued timelines for filing responses, the Attorney General responded to the accusations and now, Kitutu and her lawyers want to waste the court's time and delay a criminal trial before the same court. Natuhwera said there is a pending criminal trial and therefore justice must be served to the government of Uganda and the people of Uganda who want the trial to go on. According to him, Kitutu's application was not only tainted with delaying tactics but also lacked merit.

State attorney Amusugut added that in the case of former presidential aspirant Gen Henry Tumukunde against the Attorney General and former CID director Grace Akullo when he wanted to quash the summons inviting him to CID, court dismissed the application saying there should be special circumstances before ordering cross-examination of a person who has sworn an affidavit. 

She said the court must feel that adequate material has been placed before it and it warrants cross-examination most importantly, the court said, cross-examination cannot be used to operate as an examination for discovery in terms of testing the merits of the applicant's case to investigate matters, which have not been brought by the person who swore an affidavit. 

As such, Amusugut said there are no special circumstances that have been brought forward by Kitutu but instead, her application appears as if she is creating some sort of investigation that is intended to delay her trial. The Attorney General together with the prosecutors asked court to dismiss Kitutu's application.

In her brief ruling following lengthy submissions, Kajuga allowed the application by Kitutu, saying that the Attorney General would not in any way be prejudiced when his witnesses are cross-examined. Kajuga said the application has far-reaching consequences/implications that require an in-depth investigation and that the purpose of the examination is clear under the Evidence Act.  

She promised to deliver a detailed ruling later and stopped the case for 30 minutes to resume with cross-examination. Last month, the court halted the trial of Kitutu pending the determination of the application alleging torture.

Background

In the application where Kitutu sued the Attorney General as the sole respondent, she alleged that on April 3rd, 2023, she got a phone call from Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja directing her to go and meet the CID director Tom Magambo to avoid embarrassment and being arrested forcefully.

She explained that upon reaching the CID Kibuli, she was immediately arrested and interrogated by nine police officers who confiscated her phones, and the following day, she was driven to the parliamentary committee on presidential affairs where she was forced to take oath despite having been denied an opportunity to interact with her lawyers. 

Kitutu says she was kept in police custody for three days without food and water despite asking for it and subjected to all forms of torture including blindfolding her and driving her to Kayunga district in search of iron sheets, in a manner that was meant to force her to confess to crimes she had not committed. 

According to Kitutu, throughout all this, the agents of the government to which she is a minister have a targeted media campaign against her and have made prejudicial statements in the press and social media platforms through selective and malicious publications in the New Vision to which the government is a shareholder. 

Kitutu contends that the actions of the state agents were calculated to deny her a fair hearing and to cast her as a villain in the public domain and as such, her rights were violated irreparably and gravely compromised. She further argues that the process leading to her arrest by the Uganda Police Force, the interrogation by the parliamentary committee, and other state institutions subjected her to torture, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment during the course of investigations against her. 

It is now the minister's contention that the entire process was marred with irreparably tainted with gross abuse of her nondelegable rights and the DPP has also additionally violated her right after the denial of disclosure of exculpatory exhibits and documents they intend to rely on to prosecute her. She now wants the charges against her dismissed on that basis.

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