152 people, who have been on death row, have today had their sentences commuted to life in prison. Five other prisoners, including the longest serving death row inmate Hajji Mohammed Birikadde, have been set free.
This comes 10 months after a Supreme Court ruling that convicts held on death row for more than three years should have their sentences should be commuted to life. The court said the extended period spend on death row was unreasonable, unnecessary and unconstitutional.
Frank Baine, spokesperson of the Uganda Prisons Service, says the five convicts were set free on a release order signed by the High Court. He says the news of the release and the commuting of the death sentences was greeting with much jubilation by prisoners at Luzira Maximum prison where they were being held.
Mohammed Birikadde had been on death row since 1980. He was convicted for a kidnap he conducted in 1970 when he was a sergeant in the now-defunct Uganda Army.
Other former convicts released Ben Simba Odongo and Isaiah Bikumu. Yowana Serunkuma was on the list of those to be freed today, but he has been detained by the prisons authorities. The prisons spokesperson says Serunkuma is to be charged for an attempted escape from the condemned section recently.
Of the 152 people whose sentences were commuted, only one is a woman. Hadijja Nasolo, who was on death row for murder, has been moved to the general women's prison in Luzira.
However, Prisons authorities have retained Yowana Serunkuma to be taken to court for an attempt to escape from the condemn section.
The Supreme Court ruling, through which the releases took place, was greeted with mixed feelings when it was delivered in January this year. The Court rejected an appeal by more than 417 death row inmates to abolish the death penalty on the grounds that it was unusually cruel, degrading and inhuman.
The panel of judges, who heard the case, admitted that the punishment was inhuman and degrading. The Court however said it was not their role to interpret the law and recommended that the matter should be presented before parliament for deliberation.
The death penalty in Uganda has not been used since 1999. Data from the Uganda Prisons Department indicates that there are currently more than 560 prisoners on death row, about 30 are women. The prisoners have been convicted for various offenses including murder, robbery, kidnapping, aggravated robber, treason and even cowardice in action.
uganda prisons service