ULS’ PETER KINOBE ROARS AT NAKALEMA; WHY TARGET LAWYERS DOING THEIR WORK?
By Otim Nape
Just a day after overjoyed people in Uganda and across the world welcomed the New Year, on 2nd January, the no-nonsense State House Anti-Corruption Unit headed by Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema, a former aide of President Yoweri Museveni, struck and arrested lawyer John Francis Onyango Owor, the Managing Partner of Onyango and Company Advocates alongside Bufumbira South MP Sam Bitangaro, and two others, for alleged fraudulent activities in connection with sale of what Nakalema said was non-existent land in Kassanda and Gomba districts.
Counsel Francis Onyango Owor was charged together with Bitangaro, who is also a lawyer, before the Magistrates Court at Makindye, Kampala and Mr. William Tumwine, an officer in charge of Uganda Women Entrepreneurship Programme (UWEP) at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development and Tumwine’s wife Stella Kakuba. They were remanded but later released on bail after spending the weekend in Luzira Prison. Hearing of the case continues.
Now, the President of the Uganda Law Society, the outspoken Simon Peter Kinobe, has come out and condemned the arrest, saying that the Nakalema led anti-corruption team acted in a manner not very different from the work methods of gangsters, or like is commonly said these days, “the mafia” as is famously used by now-out-of-favour former ICT State Minister Aidah Nantaba. In a statement, Kinobe said that on the fateful day 2nd January 2020, Counsel Onyango Owor and his co-accused were summoned to the State House Anti-Corruption Unit to “provide information” on his client Kiboga Twegatte Cooperative Society Ltd.
“On arrival, Mr. Onyango and the other two individuals were instead arrested and immediately arraigned before the Grade Two Magistrate at Makindye Chief Magistrates Court and charged with seven counts including obtaining money by false pretence, fraudulent procurement of titles, fraudulent sale of mortgaged property and conspiracy to defraud government, among others,” said Kinobe in the statement. The Uganda Law Society President added that the society’s preliminary findings indicate that Counsel Onyango’s only crime was acting as an advocate, something he does in the normal course of his work and profession as an advocate/lawyer and an officer of court.
According to Kinobe, there has been a growing trend of arrests and detention of advocates in the course of performing their duties. “Overtime, several advocates have been arrested and unlawfully detained based on unsubstantiated allegations arising from the performance of their duties as advocates,” said Kinobe. He added that the Uganda Law Society condemns in the strongest terms what he calls the growing negative practice.
“We once again reiterate the fact that all practising advocates as officers of court deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect; as such, no any advocate should be subjected to arbitrary and unlawful arrests for acts done in the course of their duty as advocates. Such arrest goes against the provisions of Article 40(2) of the Constitution of Uganda which safeguards the rights of every person in Uganda to practice his or her profession and to carry on any lawful occupation, trade of business,” said Kinobe in the one-page statement issued on 27th January 2020. The Uganda Law Society President said that in Uganda, all advocates are accountable to the Law Council; established under Section 2 of the Advocates Act for any acts of improper or unprofessional nature.
“We advise the different agencies to always consult the Uganda Law Society or the Law Council before they arrest any advocate,” said Kinobe. He then commended the work of the Lt. Col. Nakalema led Anti-corruption Unit and others fighting the vice. “We continue to appreciate the fight against corruption but reiterate the need for respect of the rule of law, due process and human rights.” Below are some of the relevant correspondences;