Not even prison could stop Mabirizi from doing what he does best: file court cases
- Written by MUHAMMAD KAKEMBO
The one-year imprisonment of rabblerousing maverick Kampala lawyer Male Hassan Mabirizi Kiwanuka might have momentarily slowed him down, but it certainly did not ground him.
On average, for every month he spent in prison, Mabirizi filed 10 cases in the different courts, including the East African Court of Justice (EACJ).
Collectively, he filed 110 cases while incarcerated. Catapulted to the limelight in 2017 when he did something that had not been done before – suing the Kabaka of Buganda – Mabirizi has filed so many cases that he has lost count.
One of the most prominent cases he got involved with was the 2018 presidential age limit removal in which, together with others, Mabirizi challenged parliament’s decision to amend the articles that restricted the age at which a person can stand for president of Uganda.
Mabirizi also demystified the reverence of lawyers when he self-represented in a highly combative and charged presidential age limit petition. Since then, Mabirizi has filed hundreds of cases on all manner of issues. He has challenged Museveni’s directives, various laws passed by parliament, and decisions of the Kabaka and Buganda kingdom.
He has asked for the academic certificates, driving permit, national ID of Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine, he has challenged the marriage of Pastor Aloysius Bugingo, he has challenged the appointment of judges...
In doing this, he has created enemies from all corners. So, when he was convicted of contempt of court in February 2022 and sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, there was a sigh of relief in many quarters. The thinking was, at least by the time he gets out, he will have learnt a lesson. But he learnt nothing and forgot nothing.
The imprisonment, if anything, gave him abundant time to continue challenging what he calls illegalities in the system. Mabirizi was released last month after spending exactly one year in prison. He never served the entire 18 months because of the remission system that the prison follows.
In an interview with The Observer, Mabirizi said he was not surprised he ended up in prison. He had been warned by a number of judges that he would land in prison. Mabirizi, a lawyer by training, says the reason he refused to go to the Law Development Centre to get a diploma in legal practice that is mandatory requirement to be an advocate, was because he wanted to be in position to challenge judges without consequences.
Mabirizi alleged he had been told by Justice Musa Ssekaana that he would end up in Kitalya prison if he did not stop undermining judges. This, he said, happened while he was challenging the appointment of Justice Simon Byabakama as the chairman of the Electoral Commission without first resigning as a judge.
Henceforth, he never allowed Ssekaana to preside over any of his cases. Ssekaana is the head of Civil division of the High court where most of Mabirizi’s cases end up. But Ssekaana aside, Mabirizi has conflicted with almost all the judges in the Civil division.
In fact, one time, the Principal Judge raised concern about Mabirizi’s actions of asking almost all judges to recuse themselves from his cases accusing them of one thing or another.
What landed him in prison, however, was using his Twitter account to hurl expletives at judges Ssekaana and Phillip Odoki. Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka said the bar could not tolerate such behaviour and Mabirizi, who was not in court, was sentenced by Ssekaana to serve 18 months.
When he heard about this, he went underground and was only arrested a week later at Kyambogo University.
“Human rights in Uganda under article 20 of the Constitution are inherent, and not granted by the state. Therefore, the right to liberty is natural; so, when someone holding a gun or a key to prison limits my right to liberty, the burden is upon him to satisfy that there are grounds to limit those liberties and to also use his efforts to apprehend me. Otherwise, I can’t surrender my right to liberty just like that. That’s why I said when I was in hiding that hiding was my right. I couldn’t surrender it especially under unconstitutional means where an imprisonment order was passed in my absence without giving me time to make a defence,” Mabirizi says.
He tried to challenge his conviction and sentence but in a lead judgment written by Court of Appeal Justice Muzamiru Kibedi, he was told the only way he would get out of prison was when he apologised to the person who convicted him. Mabirizi vehemently disagreed; he said it was not proper for the three judges to hear his case.
“My contention is that I had put in a temporary injunction stopping my imprisonment but it was handled as though they were dealing with a substantive appeal, yet they didn’t have anything on record. I told them that I’m being held illegally because any imprisonment in a civil matter can’t exceed six months; since mine was that, I had disobeyed a court order that imprisonment couldn’t exceed six months. When I showed them that section, they made a U-turn and said that it was a criminal imprisonment. I asked them how, and they said when you abuse court, that is criminal. Now here I’m, I have served; what if court resolves this issue in my favour, what happens? The Attorney General said they will compensate me because they have the money as if that is their money,” Mabirizi says.
When he was finally in the hands of the authorities at Kitalya prison, his main challenge was; how does he follow up the cases he had in courts when he was constrained?
He asked court to issue an order to Kitalya prison to provide him with internet to enable him make research and prepare for his many cases where he self-represents.
This was unprecedented, for a prisoner to have access to internet. Kitalya prison could not accommodate a wiseacre of a prisoner; he was transferred to Luzira Maximum Security prison. In his other hustles as money lender, Mabirizi had been arrested a couple of times before and taken to police, but he would be released hours later. It was his first time to spend time in a real prison.
At Kitalya, Mabirizi says the living condition was quite good; prisoners had mattresses, the prison warders were friendly and the prisoners themselves were nice.
“After a few days in prison, you begin to get used; your colleagues tell you this will end and before you know it, you are also orienting newcomers. I think the biggest problem in prison is that psychological part where you look at imprisonment as the end of the road. But when you keep the hope, prison becomes easy to take in especially if you are a convict. You are always
looking forward to the day when you are going out,” Mabirizi says.
MEMORIES OF PRISON
Mabirizi says his day normally began at 3:30am if he had a court session and at 5:30am if there was no court to attend. Owing to his many cases, Mabirizi would at least have three appearances a week. The day normally began with a rollcall, then those who were going to court would get ready to leave, while the rest freshened up for breakfast – normally porridge.
At Luzira Upper prison where Mabirizi was to spend most of his time, at 9am, they served beans and an hour or so later, they served posho commonly known as buloka. Mabirizi says it is misleading to refer to the food served in prison as posho; when grinding the maize to make the flour, nothing is removed, making it fit for animals, not human beings.
“Prison is the worst abuser of human rights, but because it has limited access, the public never gets to know what is there. But I tell you, the food they give prisoners is not fit for human consumption,” Mabirizi says.
At Kitalya, prisoners with means are allowed to buy food of their liking and it is served in the open. But at Luzira, this is not the case. Mabirizi says he wanted to prepare his food but the officer in charge said this would not be possible.
“The man said if I want special meals, he must give me a cook. I told him no, my food doesn’t have a transport system. I told him this prison is dangerous because in the past, prominent people have died from here. I told him of lawyer Bob Kasango who died under unclear circumstances. I told him about the suspect in the Dr Aggrey Kiyingi murder case. I told him about Kifeefe Musasizi, Besigye’s brother. Paulo Muwanga who died immediately after his release. So, I told him, ‘I cannot trust your system’,” Mabirizi remembers his conversation with OC Mbaziira.
When they disagreed, Mabirizi vowed never to eat prison food. For the 10 months at Luzira, he depended on fruits, biscuits and water.
“At Upper Prison where I was, we were a limited group of about 45 people; so, it is easy for someone to poison all of you, then treat the rest then for you when you go for treatment, they add you their poison,” Mabirizi alleges.
At Upper prison, Mabirizi was imprisoned with inmates such as Bobi Young, an NUP supporter who was recently charged before the court martial, music promoter and city hoodlum Sipapa accused of robbing a South Sudanese national, suspects accused of stealing guns from police stations, 2021 bomb suspects, those accused of attempting to detonate a bomb during the burial of former deputy IGP Paul Lokech, suspects accused of vandalizing electricity lines and those charged with belonging to the Allied Democratic Forces of Jamil Mukulu.
“They are running a prison within prison. They have wards where they isolate prisoners sometimes; they are even kept in solitary confinement for more than 14 days. The Prisons Act says that every prisoner shall be together with others and isolation would be a punishment when a person becomes violent and is found liable. But for political expediency, Luzira Upper prison is maintaining prisons within prison,” Mabirizi alleges, adding that even the punishments meted out on prisoners sometimes go beyond what is acceptable by law.
If those who sent Mabirizi to prison thought he would tone down, they are already being treated to a rude awakening. Since his release last month, he has already filed a couple of cases including one challenging Asuman Basalirwa’s anti-homosexuality bill.
He says there must be somebody willing to bell the cat, like the saying goes. He says the opposition must understand that defeating the current regime will take more than hashtags.
“I asked Bobi Young, ‘now you have found me leaving, you people think that all you can do is hashtag Free Bobi young, Free Ssegirinya, Free Ssewanyana. But how does the hashtag now help you here?’ We can’t leave lawlessness to go on simply because we want people to make noise when we have been arrested. Imprisonment is not fought by making noise; imprisonment is a legal thing the dictator uses. That’s why he hires the best brains to go to court to argue his cases. That’s why he is imprisoning us, chasing us here and there so that we can join him. We will antagonize everybody as long as they are breaking the law.”
Don’t be shocked to see another Male Mabirizi file this time challenging the way Uganda prisons are run!
Because of his Jewish Nationalism, Barnabas was a pain in the neck and butt of Pilato, the Roman Colonial Governor of Judea.
Not many Christians know that Barnabas was one of Jesus' best Disciples.
But considering the oppressive political situation of the time; Barnabas lost his cool, patience and hope of Independence from the oppressive Roman imperialism, when Jesus the "Non-violent Pacifist" started talking about "loving one's enemies, and turning the other cheek.
In other words, Barnabas and Co. headed back to terrorism and banditry (Bush), to make it impossible for the Romans to continue exploiting the Jews. That was how he got arrested and imprisoned, and later was traded for his release from prison with Jesus, when the Jews became riotous.
In other words, Ugandans are better off with Male Mabirizi out of prison, than him being in prison and the few NRM Judges and ideologues having peace of mind.
E.g. how the Priestly class (Chief Priests/Arch Bishops) hobnobbed and gained favors and privileges (luxury cars) from the Political class (Romans) and political trouble causers like the Barnabas and Jesus got scandalized as Terrorist, blasphemed, imprisoned and/or crucified.
For all his well publicized exploits, for all his huffing and puffing, what have his efforts yielded for the common good? I would say, nothing really tangible.