At 3pm on a hot day in Kiboga District, Gaspari Byaruhanga leaves his mud-and-wattle hut, carrying a green basin full of cassava pieces. He rents the hut at Shs20,000 per month.
He spreads the cassava out on the faded tarpaulin on the ground in front of his house. Then, he sits on a stool, watching life pass by.
Byaruhanga has spent 20 years trying to prove that he never committed a double murder he was accused of committing.
Twenty two years ago, Byaruhanga was a farmer and trader in Kyakajja Village, Kanyogoga Parish, Mubende District. At 32, he and his 27-year-old wife had eight children.
Then, in September 2000, their neighbour, Abdul Mbarabukyeye and his wife Mariam went missing. Willy Katalewa, who was the chairperson of Kyakajja Village at the time, says Byaruhanga’s stepmother, Alizabera Nyirakiriye, told the villagers that her stepsons had murdered the couple and buried them in their father’s garden.
Byaruhanga says it was all hearsay. “The only evidence they had was someone saying, ‘Someone told me that those people killed someone.’ No one searched for concrete evidence of who killed that couple,” he says.
Police arrested Byaruhanga and his brother Everest Seguya, who was 17 at the time. In reprisals, the villagers destroyed their property and appropriated their land.
The two brothers were charged with murder at Mubende High Court and remanded to Mubende prison for 365 days. They were then imprisoned in Kigo Prison for four years.
When their case came up for hearing, surprisingly, their stepmother, on whose testimony the prosecution rested its case, was never brought into the dock to testify. According to court documents this newspaper has seen, the duo were tried on the basis of hearsay and rumours. On April 31, 2004, Lady Justice Catherine Okello found them guilty and condemned them to death.
The night of their conviction, the duo were transferred to the Condemned Section of Luzira Upper Prison. They were locked up in a room with five other prisoners, with whom they had to share a bucket, which served as their toilet.
To remain sane, Byaruhanga read his Bible, spread the gospel and counselled newcomers in the Condemned Section. On the other hand, Seguya taught himself how to play the guitar.
In November 22, 2013, following the success of Constitutional Appeal No. 3 of 2006, Byaruhanga and Seguya were removed from death row and sentenced to 50 years in prison. However, they had already been in detention for 13 years, so the sentence was reduced to 37 years.
However, they appealed their conviction, and on July 30, 2019, the Court of Appeal at Fort Portal set them free, saying their conviction had been founded on inadmissible hearsay evidence.
The brothers never returned to their former homes in Kyakajja. They now live in Kiboga District. Their lawyer visited the former chairman, Katalewa, and requested him to compel the villagers to return their property.
“When the chairman talked to them, the villagers said they cannot return our property. They went further and said if we ever returned, they would harm us,” Byaruhanga says.
In the first case of its kind, the brothers have sued the Attorney General, seeking compensation for the 20 years they spent in jail on a wrongful conviction.
For Byaruhanga, it is about getting back his lost life. “My children did not go to school because I was not there to pay their school fees. Maybe if they had had an education, they would have become something in this world. I had land and animals, but now I have nothing. Government should compensate me,” he says.
Their lawyer, Lynette Nakibuuka, says suing the government is the best option for the duo.
“We are not asking for a specified amount of money, but the government should look into cases such as this one. In the USA and UK they have statutes that ensure people who have spent a long time in prison on a wrongful conviction get a certain amount of money. Uganda could copy those statutes, and also provide free rehabilitation and health care for such people,” she says.