This thing called “Treason”

The civic right under article 38 of the constitution of Uganda is not without responsibility and duty. A person that evokes this right must adhere to its strict logic to do so ‘in peaceful activities to influence the policies of government through civic organisations’. That the rights are burdened with the obligation to act within the law is only a fair catapult.

Rtd. Dr. Kizza Besigye, one of the leading opposition leaders in Uganda faces treason charges in the Ugandan courts of law. It is alleged that the four-time presidential candidate committed these acts against the sovereignty of the country and, as legally required, will face the Courts of Justice.

Treason is a crime.

In law, it is a crime that is regarded of extreme nature against one’s nation or authority. The Black’s Law Dictionary defines treason as ‘the offense of attempting to overthrow the government of the state to which one owes allegiance, either by making war against the state or by materially supporting its enemies’. A person who commits a treasonable offence is a traitor. But what constitutes ‘treason’ as a crime?

Uganda and Kenya have Penal Codes (Chapter 120 and Chapter 63, respectively), which laws govern criminal law. According to section 23 of Chapter 120 and section 40(3) of Chapter 63, the offence of treason carries with it the ultimate death sentence. These laws similarly spell out the acts which constitute treason to include: waging war against the state; causing to harm or attempting to harm the president; plotting to and declaring such plot or plan to overturn by use of force the government; aiding any of the acts; etc.

There are several other acts regarded treasonable. Concealment of treason, terrorism, promoting war, aiding armed personnel in acts of mutiny, inducing soldiers to desert, aiding prisoners of war to escape, sectarianism, conducting unlawful oaths (like one witnessed during Dr. K.B’s mock swearing in ceremony), etc. are all felonies which carry different sentences on conviction.

In most jurisdictions like the United States of America, a person(s) can be convicted of treasonable offences on the testimony of two witnesses to the act or a confession in open Court. Some jurisdictions take it a notch higher by requiring the ‘act’ and not just the ‘intent’. However, when both ‘intent’ and ‘act’ happen, voila!

Given what we have established, the lay and the legal fraternity in Uganda is a faction. Was the unrelenting Dr. K.B exercising his civic right and activity when he swore himself in as the ‘elected president of the Republic of Uganda’ or was he committing treason by abusing the recognized authority that conducted the February 2016 elections and announced the incumbent president as the winner?

When dealing with offences of this magnitude, courts have an augmented yoke to explore all legal diagnosis to either convict or acquit or find a no-case to answer. Otherwise, the element of rights and responsibilities is what prevails in a fragile democracy trying to implement a lawful trial in treason matters.

Currently, the region awaits what many anticipate as a defining verdict on the case against the Rtd. Doctor; and hopefully, with respect to the rule of law, have a precedent for this thing called ‘treason’.


This article appears in our newsletter, The Deuteronomy Volume 2, Issue 4 of May 27th, 2016


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