The Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) and lawyers representing a soldier, who says he was tortured by the army, have inadvertently played it out in the public gallery.
The development follows the leaking of court documents indicating that the High Court had ordered the UPDF to halt the trial of Corporal Majibu Ssebyara, who was facing charges of ‘failing to protect war materials’, an offence punishable by death under the UPDF Act.
In her ruling on November 22, 2016 High Court Judge Justice Patricia Basaza Wasswa declared the trial of Cpl Ssebyara by the military court as ‘illegal, null and void’.
She subsequently issued a permanent order staying the proceedings in criminal case number UPDF/GCM/15/2015, in which Ssebyara was accused of failing to protect war weapons while on duty in Somalia while serving under Amisom.
Justice Basaza also ordered that the military court discharge the soldier and never to use evidence obtained through torture against him. This was after the judge admitted Cpl Ssebyara’s account of torture.
It is still not clear whether the ailing soldier still remains under detention, but following media reports highlighting his plight, coupled with the viral online photo of a tortured man in a way similar to that which Cpl Ssebyara said he went through, the army has finally spoken out on his fate.
Through a statement issued today by UPDF spokesman Paddy Ankunda, the army denies defying the orders of the High Court, which ordered that Cpl Ssebyara be discharged.
“The GCM (General Court Martial) respected the ruling of the High Court and stopped the trial of the accused on the said offence. The UPDF through the Attorney General has however appealed the High Court ruling on torture and so we are not obliged to comment on the ingredients of the matter, because the matter is subjudice,” reads part of the statement.
Lieutenant Colonel Ankunda adds that by the time of the High Court ruling, ‘the accused had other cases under investigations to answer, notably the offences relating to security contrary to section 130 of the UPDF Act, to which he is being tried. The current charges he is facing, therefore, are independent of the High Court ruling and we are equally not obliged to make any comment about its ingredients, since it’s before court’.
Lt. Col. Ankunda urged the media and public to remain ‘patient on this matter and desist from making comments or jumping to conclusions, so as to allow the legal process to smoothly take its course as required by the laws of Uganda’.
In a sworn affidavit presented to the High Court drawn by Bamwite and Kakuba Advocates and the Centre for Legal Aid, counsel for Cpl Ssebyara, the soldier narrated how he was tortured following his arrest in Somalia.
He told court that he was undressed, insulted and tied by the hands on a steel bar, a bag of about 15 kilogrammes tied and hanged on the penis and testicles. He was then moved to a metallic container, handcuffed for 24 hours and left for days without medical care.
This claim was supported by Medical records dated October 6 and November 2, 2015 from Nakasero Hospital and Bombo Military Hospital, respectively, which indicated that his right testicle had become smaller than the contralateral (opposite) testis [and] was non-tender and he has a chronic right testicular infarction and internal echogenicity with no flow.
In the affidavit, Ssebyara further narrates that: “I was tied with sisal ropes and told to stand on top of a sack of sand and ordered to put my hands above the head.” The hands were tied up on an overhead metal barrier and the sand was removed, leaving the feet hanging, he adds.
According to Ssebyara, he was told to plead guilty if he wanted the torture to come to an end.
A Photo allegedly that of Ssebyara being tortured went viral on social media on Tuesday attracting public outcry.
However, the army has pronounced itself on the ailing officer.