By Petride Mudoola
JOHNSON Atuhairwe sits in his cell located within the condemned section longing for a glimpse of his family members for the last time before he meets his creator. Atuhairwe was sentenced to suffer death for murdering his wife.
He lost hope when his appeal was in vain as the Court of Appeal confirmed his sentence. But even with the death sentence hanging over his head, he has cause to smile since his right to freedom is still left in the hands of the President.
Nineteen years have lapsed since he embarked on a solo journey branded by grief and sorrow as his last wish is to hold his grandchildren that he doubts know of his existence.
According to the law, the president has no powers to intervene in criminal prosecution; however, under article 121 of the 1995 Constitution, through the advisory committee of prerogative of mercy, the President is mandated to exercise his rights to release prisoners.
However, due to the pending formation of a new prerogative of mercy committee, Atuhairwe and the rest of the prisoners anticipating to benefit from presidential pardon will have to wait a little longer following the expiry of the previous committee’s mandate two years ago.
The prerogative of mercy is an executive process that comes after the Judiciary has concluded its duties; it’s a system that mandates the president to exercise his powers to pardon some prisoners.
Headed by the president and chaired by the Attorney General and six reputable members of the public, the Prerogative of Mercy Committee is authorized to receive the names of prisoners who qualify for clemency then forward them to the president for approval.
In 2009, the president released Obote’s former Internal Affairs Minister, Chris Rwakasisi, and the former Governor of the Central Province during Amin regime, Abdullah Nassur, who was on death row in Luzira’s Upper Prison.
The President made his last presidential pardons on March 27, 2012 when he released Sharma Kooky after spending 12 years behind bars at Luzira Maximum Security Prison for torturing and killing his wife, Renu Joshi.
Prison authorities are mandated to compile a list of prisoners from various detention facilities who qualify for presidential pardon annually; thereafter submit the names to the Attorney General’s office for approval.
Frank Baine the Prison’s publicist, says the department has so far submitted 1121 names of prisoners within its 239 units who qualify for pardon but to date, there has been no response to that effect.
Baine, however, says due to the delay to inaugurate a new prerogative of mercy committee, 400 convicts have walked out of jail having served their sentences.
“The names were submitted to the Attorney General’s office in August 2011; however, to date we have not received any response to that effect yet we have no control over the committee. Our duty is to submit the names of the convicts who qualify for clemency,” Baine said.
Baine did not mention the names of those who qualified for presidential pardon but noted those above 54 years, pregnant women, breast feeding mothers, terminally sick prisoners, petty offenders, capital offenders serving last six months of their sentence and convicts on death row were among the people on the list submitted.
Asked why it has taken long for the committee to be instituted, Attorney General, Peter Nyombi, said the Solicitor General is yet to submit the names of the members who are supposed to constitute the prerogative of mercy committee.
According to Nyombi, the committee is set to select prisoners meant to benefit from presidential pardon.
“We received the names of the prisoners who merit presidential pardon, but the Solicitor General is still handling the matter pertaining formation of a new prerogative of mercy committee,” Nyombi said.
While some prisoners hope to gain freedom through clemency, female inmates of Luzira Women’s Prison are worried that they may be left out since its only men who benefited from the previous pardons.
Hajara Namuddu, who is serving a 30-year jail sentence over murder, recalls that the President exercised his right to release prisoners in 2009 and 2012, but women were not considered.
“We have made a million apologies to the people we wronged and for the crimes we committed in society. Some of us have been fully rehabilitated, totally reformed and ready for integration into society,” Namuddu states.
“Having undergone various rehabilitation programmes while in jail, we have reformed. If we are pardoned, we are capable of living responsible lives,” Namuddu said, asking the President to grant them clemency.
Namuddu appeals to the President to pardon the convicted prisoners and inmates waiting for the minister’s orders, noting that many of them have spent a long time in jail waiting for the minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to release them.
Johnson Kamya Wavamuno, who has spent 15 years of his life sentence in jail for aggravated robbery and murder says his sojourn in prison has taught him a lot and has given him an emotional experience that made him renounce his old habits and embrace salvation.
“We plead to God and through his Grace the Archbishop to ask the President and the nation to accept our apologies and grant us pardon. Without divine intervention no single soul would survive these inhuman, unbearable and inordinate sentences we were handed,” he pleaded.