Stella Nyanzi requests to advertise slots for ‘willing’ witnesses

Incarcerated Makerere University researcher Dr Stella Nyanzi has asked court to adjourn her case for a month to allow her find witnesses willing to testify on her behalf.

Except for one, all the 19 witnesses that the defense had lined up failed to turn up in court on Tuesday and Wednesday. Nyanzi is charged with offensive communication and harassment, when in September 2018, she allegedly published a loutish birthday poem insulting and disturbing the peace and privacy of President Yoweri Museveni and his mother, the late Esteri Kokundeka.

She was arrested on November 22, 2018 and has since been on remand in Luzira prison after refusing to apply for bail. Through her lawyers, Isaac Semakadde and Derrick Bazekuketta, Nyanzi argued that since court has refused to compel the 20 witnesses the defense mentioned to court, the defense needed about a month to publish a notice in a newspaper of wide circulation and other media inviting willing witnesses.

Bazekuketta made the request while presenting his submission before the Buganda Road Grade One magistrate, Gladys Kamasanyu. He said the defense team will name willing witnesses within two weeks’ time. However, the prosecution team led by Timothy Amerit and Janet Kitimbo objected to the defense request for a month’s time to invite willing witnesses through news media.

Amerit noted that besides the defense trying to play delaying tactics so as to prolong the trial; it is alien in legal practice to advertise in search of witnesses. He said the defense request only shows that the accused doesn’t have witnesses and wants to go on a fishing expedition.

Prosecution prayed that the defense closes its case with final submissions or else court delivers it judgment. Amerit noted prosecution sees no justification for the adjournment given the reasons advanced by the defense, saying it will only bring disrepute to the court.

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In its response, Semakadde, said it be would unfair for court to compel defense to close its case. He observed that whereas the prosecution had eight months to conduct investigations and the hearings, court gave the defense team only two days on July 3, 2019 to summon 20 witnesses and make submissions amidst scarce resources, which makes it unfair.

Nyanzi had mentioned 20 witnesses including President Museveni and asked court to summon them to give expert opinion in her case. Court ruled out summoning Museveni, saying as a sitting president he can’t be summoned. When the other witnesses failed to show up, the defense was prompted to ask court through her lawyers to issue arrest warrants, a request that was rejected.

Kamasanyu noted that the defense didn’t give court substantial reasons to compel the witnesses to appear. She noted that the witnesses are expected to be willing and known to the accused.

The defense also noted that although placing adverts in the newspapers to invite witnesses is unheard of, Nyanzi’s case would be the first. Kamasanyu adjourned the matter to July 15 to give her ruling.

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