Rakai fire suspects charged, remanded

The suspects in a case of a dormitory fi re that claimed 10 students at St Bernard’s SS, Mannya, have been remanded to Masaka Prison. They were sent on remand two weeks after the November 11 fi re. Unknown people torched a Senior Three dormitory at night, killing 10 students and leaving 36 injured.

Police arrested more than 15 suspects, but zeroed in on six — four students and two security guards. They are Halen Taremwa, Alex Junior Mugarura, Niyo Edison Elias and Dickson Kisuule (all students), Michael Tayebwa (security guard) and a Police offi cer, Steven Nzeyimana.

They were arraigned before the Masaka Chief Magistrate, Deogratius Ssejjemba. The resident state attorney, Ivan Nkwasibwe, said the suspects have 10 counts of murder, 37 of attempted murder, two of attempted arson and one of malicious damage.

Tayebwa and Nzeyimaana are charged with negligence of duty. The suspects were not allowed to take plea since the alleged crime is a capital offence and can only be tried in the High Court. They were remanded until December 13. The remand follows a series of protests by family members of both suspects and the deceased, over their prolonged detention. Amid investigations, each side had mounted pressure on the Police to expedite the investigation and produce the suspects in court.

Parents of the accused students claimed they had been denied access to their children for a fortnight. They also accused the Police of detaining their children with adults because the facility has no cells for juveniles.

Police responds However, the Police defended the delayed process and long detention of the suspects, saying the case still needed more time to investigate. The Police spokesperson, Emilian Kayima, said the delays were inevitable, given the nature of the case.

He further explained that more investigations were being conducted, even when the suspects are on remand.

Controversy over age

While the Police charged the four students as adults of 19 years of age, parents claimed they were 17 years old. A parent, who preferred anonymity, said her son is a minor, who should have been taken to a remand home and not Masaka Prison.

 “Even though they are accused, their rights still stand. Why should the Police try my son as an adult? Is that justice? The Police lied about their age,” she said.

However, Frank Baine, the Uganda Prisons spokesperson, said sometimes their hands are tied when the Police and court charge minors as adults. He explained that in such cases, they still isolate the suspects purported to be minors as the concerned institutions rectify the anomaly.

Rights activist

A human rights lawyer, Allan Musasire, said juvenile offenders must be kept in mandated detention facilities. Musasire said minors have to come from remand homes to appear in court because several Police stations and prisons lack facilities for juveniles.