Magistrate in Uganda homophobic smear case accuses lawyer of dirty tricks campaign

The trial magistrate in Uganda’s on-going landmark homophobic smear case against three anti-gay pastors has accused the lead defence lawyer of a dirty tricks campaign.

Magistrate John Wekesa said the lawyer, Edward Sekabanja, had orchestrated a bribery smear campaign against him in the media and meanwhile sanctioned “false affidavits” to accuse the magistrate of having received a bribe from Robert Kayanja of Lubaga Miracle Centre Cathedral in Kampala.

Sempa (facing down) and Kyazze during a court appearance in 2011

Sekabanja represents three Christian preachers, Martin Sempa, Solomon Male and Bob Kyazze who stand accused of conspiracy to damage Kayanja’s name by way of a homophobic smear campaign. Kayanja has sued the three pastors in the on-going case.

The accused pastors, their lawyers, Henry Ddungu and David Kaggwa, together with David Mukalazi and Deborah Kyomuhendo (agents of the accused) face charges of conspiring to injure Pastor Kayanja’s reputation. The two lawyers were included for allegedly commissioning false affidavits. If convicted they face five years in jail under Ugandan law.

Previously, the magistrate ruled that court had obtained ample evidence to have the accused pastors in the landmark case defend themselves.

The case came up today, (Monday February 20) after a long stalemate following a complaint lodged in the high court that the trial magistrate was biased against the accused pastors. The case file was sent to the registrar of the high court for perusal.

However, high court sources told Behind the Mask that the registrar sent back the case file to the lower trial court saying that Magistrate Wekesa was not “allowed time to excuse himself from the case.’

But defence lawyers are understood to have told the registrar that they did not “want to embarrass” Wekesa, adding that they had approached the magistrate in his chambers and expressed the desire to ask him to stand down from the case.

The defence raised the complaint after the magistrate ruled in December last year that the accused homophobic pastors had a case to answer.

Today the magistrate said he was saddened that Sekabanja had also waged a media war against him as an individual by alleging that Wekesa had built a house in his home area in Mbale District, Eastern Uganda, within four months from bribe money given him by Kayanja.

Sekabanja is also said to have made people to swear affidavits of the same to back his complaint against Wekesa. “Can I remind you that sanctioning false affidavits is criminal?” Wekesa told Sekabanja.

This is not the first time the magistrate is at loggerheads with the defence counsel. Last year while delivering a ruling that the accused had a case to answer, Wekesa had a heated verbal exchange with Sekabanja. The defence had sought to block the ruling, claiming that magistrate Wekesa was biased against the pastors.

At the time, Sekabanja said he had written to court earlier asking that Wekesa withdraw from hearing the case. However the magistrate dismissed the suggestions as “nonsense.” The magistrate threatened to have court security guards throw Sekabanja out of the court room saying, “You are not going to turn this court or any other into a traditional shrine and arm twist the law as you please.”

The case has been rescheduled for April 4, 2012 pending a police investigation report on the bribery claims by Sekabanja.

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