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Anthony Katamba loses case to MTN, others; Court confirms he was instrumental in CEO Van deportation and Ssetongo’s torture

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Anthony Mutyaba Katamba has lost a case to MTN Uganda, Haggai Matsiko as court confirmed he was instrumental in MTN Chief Executive Officer Wim Vanhelleputte deportation and torture of Michael Ssetongo with the help of Agasirwe Nixon

In the ruling held today led by Justice Ssekaana Musa, the allegations of deportations were indeed true.

“The allegations that the threats to deport and indeed the deportation of the 5th defendant were true and the plaintiff were in the know of what was happening even if he claims not to have been behind it.  The evidence on court records shows otherwise,” Justice Ssekaana noted.

Katamba had filed this suit against the defendants jointly and severally for recovery of damages for defamation of his otherwise good name, arising from an article published in the Independent Magazine of February 22nd-28th ,2019 on pages 10,11,12 and 13 under the headline “Black Days at MTN, Story Behind dumping of 5 bosses” together with interest and costs.

He further contended that the statements contained in the said Magazine Article are utterly false and unfounded and were deliberately published and calculated to lower his hitherto high esteem in the eyes of right- thinking members of society. The words complained of contained in the above article were false and are highly defamatory of the plaintiff.

However, MTN Uganda, Haggai Matsiko and Wim Vanhelleputte (defendants) have always sought comment from the plaintiff and other officers of the 4th defendant before publishing any story relating to the 4th defendant and her employees in line with employment. The defendants bore no ill will towards the person of the plaintiff or indeed any person named in the article.

Prior to the publication of the Article complained of, the plaintiff was contacted and his comments were sought in relation to the allegations contained in the whistleblower’s report but he declined to go on record with a comment and instead advised the Haggai Matsiko to publish the article at his discretion or use his personal judgment.

The defendants admitted publishing the said articles but their defence is that what is stated there in is true. However, a true statement written and said about another person can never become defamatory. The written publication must be false and without any lawful justification for it to be defamatory. Words are not defamatory however much they damage a man in the eyes of a sector of the community unless they also amount to disparagement of his reputation in the eyes of right thinking men generally.

“The defendant published an article titled “Black Days at MTN, Story Behind dumping of 5 bosses” which set out the management crisis with the 4th defendant and this article has been reproduced herein before. The said story or article was published according to DW1(Andrew Mwenda) and DW2 (Haggai Matsiko) based upon a whistleblower’s report and that before the publication of the article containing the words complained of, went to great length to verify the contents therein with different sources like talking to the plaintiff, perusal of court proceedings in the High Court (Anti-Corruption Division) Criminal Session Case No. 123 of 2012 Uganda v Ssentongo & 4 Others, review of the recorded statements by the 5th and 6th defendants, review of the contents of the email from the 5th defendant to his superiors at the 4th defendant,” Court noted.

“The 1st- 3rd defendants had a duty to prove that the defamatory imputation of the plaintiff is true about being involved in torture claims. This has been strictly proved against the plaintiff when he mentioned in the record of proceedings of court as being present when Sentongo was tortured by Nixon Agasirwe. Nixon slapped me hard saying I had embarrassed him. I got up and told him I was ready to do what he wanted. Nixon told Katamba he would brief him. I was locked in a room.

The plaintiff in his testimony under the witness statement had denied and contended that the writer and publishers of the article had failed to exercise due care and diligence to verify the allegations in the whistle blower’s report. The main contention by the plaintiff was that nowhere in the judgment of Justice Lawrence Gidudu was he implicated alone or with others for torturing Mr. Sentongo. The source of this story was the court proceedings which set out the manner and how Sentongo was tortured.

“The story was setting out the facts and indeed true in as far as the source is clear. It was only implying that the plaintiff was an accomplice or an alleged violator of human rights as per the court proceedings in Ssentongo’s testimony in court when he made an alleged confession under serious circumstances of torture at the hands of Agasirwe Nixon.” Court noted.

The 6th defendant testified that the plaintiff walked out of the meeting briefly and when he returned moments later enraged, demanding to know from the 5th defendant the whereabouts of his laptop computer. He further quoted the plaintiff to have said; “You have crossed the line and I’m going to get you deported. You will see who I am. You have been persecuting me for a long time. I am going to report the case to police. “

It is further clear from the above email by the 5th defendant that indeed there was a stormy meeting between the plaintiff and 5th defendant although the plaintiff tried to deny this fact. In fact, the plaintiff’s lap top was taken from him immediately as he was meeting the 5th defendant without notice or his knowledge. Such an act cannot be interpreted as a rosy relationship as he wants this court to believe. In the email by the 5th defendant to his superiors he stated that: “The attached letter was drafted by our lawyers and provides for 18 months’ salary pay out, in-line with a very generous interpretation of the applicable labour law. We have taken his computer and have disabled his access to the building”

The plaintiff further contended that the article showed that there was or existed tension or differences (Internal fight) between the plaintiff and 5th defendant or other employees. This is confirmed by pleadings in support of the plaintiff’s claims filed at the industrial court and responses by the company-MTN; Industrial Court Labour Dispute No. 202 of 2019 arising out of Labour Dispute No. 214 of 2019 as exhibited in this court.

The Justice ruled, “The entire article as published was based on facts proved to have existed at the time and were indeed true as proved before this court. It is not clear to this court what the plaintiff’s motive was in trying to twist or deny the story and make it appear grossly false when these facts were within his knowledge as indeed truthful.”

He added that the law requires the plaintiff in an action for libel to strictly prove publication. The burden of proof is fixed on him at the end of pleadings and he must discharge that burden before it can shift to the defendant. The plaintiff alleged that the 4th to 6th defendants made a publication of the alleged defamatory statements. The pleadings do not mention the specific or exact words made of or about the plaintiff and the same has remained a mere statement. The 4th defendant’s external lawyer was only requested to verify statements made at police and existence of complaints at police.

The 1st -3rd defendants do not state the 4th-6th defendants as the source of the said information but rather the whistle-blower’s report which triggered the entire story as reported. The plaintiff failed to strictly prove the publication of the information in possession of the 4th -6th defendants.

“As noted earlier, the words and what is stated in the article were true and not malicious or defamatory of the plaintiff,” Justice Ssekaana asserted.

He ordered, “This suit fails and is accordingly dismissed with costs to the defendants.”

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