Pre-trial detention in Uganda: «Will I die here?»


Mityana, Uganda, 21 January 2014 – According to a research conducted by Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) and the University of Toronto, one person in three in Uganda is detained well beyond the periods prescribed by law. In order to address this issue, ASF is promoting systematic access of detainees to a fair and speedy trial, and the rights of prisoners. 48 years old Mariam Nannozi is one of the detainees released from the Women prison of Luzira thanks to the assistance of a lawyer retained and trained by ASF.

The life of Mariam (right in picture) took a dramatic turn early 2013 when she was arrested and accused of the murder of her brother. She was brought to the Women Luzira prison, near the capital city of Kampala, where the living conditions are particularly harsh. “One day, I arrived too late in the prisoners‘ line. As a punishment, I had to carry heavy stones from one place of the prison to another for two entire days”, Mariam recounts.

Her family members sold all her belongings and plot to pay for her release but it did not yield. After two months of imprisonment, family visits stopped.

Soon Mariam fell sick and was admitted for two weeks in Luzira Prisons Hospital, suffering from hypertension, depression and yeast cells.

One of the greatest problems in prison is that inmates and warders say any attempts to freedom are fruitless. “The other inmates were telling me to give up on life. I was asking myself: will I die here?” lamented Mariam.

Finally, one day, she is being told that a lawyer, Advocate Sylvia Ebitu Namawejje (left in picture), is there to examine her case. According to Uganda legislation, Mariam has the right to be released on bail after six months, until her case is tried. She appeared in Court and was released soon after. “Even today, I cannot express my gratitude to ASF and Advocate Sylvia without crying. Because, in prison, there is no information about your rights, no hope, no consolation”, says Mariam.

Before being imprisoned, Mariam was making a living by selling coalwood and sawing woods in the vicinity of Mityana municipality, some 100 km West of Kampala: “Now, as a widow, I am left with nothing. But my grown up children and villagers help me. At least, I am free.

Mariam’s greatest fear currently is the possibility of cancelling her bail upon committal and returning to prison would be death to her. Her struggle now is to be restored in health and strength to work to sustain herself.

Implemented with the support of the Uganda Law Society, the project is supported by the Human Rights Program of the Australian Government. In the last 6 months, 128 women in-mates in Luzira Prison have managed to access legal representation through ASF’s pool of lawyers, including Advocate Namawejje. 25 offenders have been released while another 11 inmates who were convicted of their charges had their cases heard and concluded from the indefinite pre-trial stage. The remaining inmates still have their cases on going.

Advocate Sylvia Ebitu Namawejje (left) helped Mariam Nannozi (right) to be  released from prison. Mityana, Uganda @ ASF – G. Van Moortel