Mubende land rights defenders: Court changes dates for trial

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Some of the 28 land rights defenders in court

By Team

Mubende – Uganda – Prosecution in the case in which 28 land rights defenders who are accused of murder yesterday partially disclosed evidence to the defence team. The disclosing of evidence is in line with last week’s order by trial judge Anthony Oyuko Ojoko to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP). In a bid to see that the case is heard expeditiously, without any delays, Oyuko commanded prosecution to disclose to the defense lawyers all documents they intend to rely on once the trial commences in earnest.  Though they were expected to disclose every document prosecution hasn’t done that this hasn’t gone down very well the accused’s lawyers who now fear they won’t prepare adequately for the trial.

In a related development, Deborah Wanume, the assistant registrar of the court, has brought forward the date on which the trial of the land rights defenders was supposed to start. Last week, Justice Anthony Oyuko Ojoko had indicated that the trial would start of November 13, but now in an apparent change of heart, the case has been fixed on November 4.

Justice Ojoko who is now camped in Mubende to preside over other 40 cases in a special criminal session was co-opted from Arua High Court.  The decision by the judiciary to bring in Justice Ojoko albeit on a temporary basis to hear the case stems from the fact that Mubende Resident judge Joseph Murangira controversially recused himself from the case. This was after the accused persons and their lawyers turned the tables on the embattled judge, accusing him of apparent bias and corruption, among other things.

The 28 victims were framed, arrested and jailed because of their stiff resistance against an illegal and forceful eviction of over 3000 inhabitants off their 322.5-hectare piece of land registered on block Block 168, Plot 19, 22 and 23 covering five villages namely, Kambuye, Kikono, Kyabaana, Kanseera and Lwensanga in East Division, Mubende Municipality, Mubende district.  The arrest of the 28 land right defenders ultimately the fight indigenous community had put up and consequently over 3000 inhabitants were dispossessed of their land by one businessman Kaweesi George with help of security agencies including Mubende police.

The grabbed land was hosting some of the families that were evicted by Kaweeri Coffee Plantation limited in the early 2000s. The 600 families are part of over 2000 families, relocated to that land adjacent to the plantation as compensation for what they had lost to Kaweeri Coffee Plantation limited owned Emmanuel Kayiwa  Bikko who has since passed on.

In the aftermath of this land grab, unearthed an organized and a clear pattern of connivance amongst justice, law and order sector departments in Mubende district.   Playing a key role was justice Murangira who offered a blank cheque to land grabbers through issuing eviction orders without hearing from the affected families. The office of the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was also compromised since the Mubende District Resident State Attorney Richard Birivumbuka presided over meetings organized by land grabbers who are now the key complainants in the case against land rights defenders.