The Court of Appeal has set aside a 44-year jail term handed down to Stephen Wasswa, a witch doctor convicted of kidnapping and attempted murder, and instead jailed him for life.
The decision was made by a three-member panel of the appellant court comprising Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera, Catherine Bamugemereire, and Eva Luswata, following Wasswa’s appeal against his earlier sentence.
The court records show that in February 2008, Wasswa had a dispute with Hope’s parents and accused them of poisoning his chicken. Subsequently, Wasswa issued threats, promising a calamity that they would never forget. On July 19, 2008, two-year-old Hope, along with her siblings, went to fetch firewood in a nearby garden. While her siblings returned, Hope did not, prompting her family to launch a frantic search. The parents reported Hope’s disappearance to the police, and Wasswa mysteriously vanished from the village, only to reappear a year and a half later.
The court documents state that on December 13, 2009, a good Samaritan identified as Agnes Nankya, accompanied by an unidentified herdsman, heard squeaky noises coming from a child in the bushes. To their horror, they discovered Hope bound and abandoned in a sisal sack in Njagala Kasaali. Hope had suffered unimaginable torture, including having half of her tongue severed and 14 visible cuts on her stomach. She was immediately taken to the hospital for medical examination.
During her hospital stay, Wasswa, the perpetrator, visited and showed interest in her, asking questions about where she had been found. Subsequently, Hope’s parents were able to locate her at the hospital after hearing radio announcements about a missing child. Wasswa was apprehended and charged before the Rakai Magistrate’s Court but was later granted bail.
He jumped bail and was eventually re-arrested in January 2016 in Mukono district. As a result of the heinous injuries inflicted upon her by Wasswa, Hope suffered severe nervous and brain damage, leading to spasticity and paraplegia, rendering her unable to walk or talk. The extent of her injuries was distressing—her tongue and teeth were removed, she bore multiple stomach wounds, her fingers and feet were mutilated, and she suffered from poor posture and an inability to feed herself.
Wasswa was tried by the high court and sentenced to 44 years in prison for the offence of Kidnap with Intent to Murder. Dissatisfied with the sentence, he appealed, arguing that it was unduly harsh and excessive. During the appeal hearing, the Prosecution requested that the sentence be increased to life imprisonment due to the severity of the torture inflicted on Hope.
The court heard the graphic details of Hope’s injuries, including attempts to conceal evidence by wrapping her in a sack and covering her head, seemingly hoping for her suffocation. In their judgment, the Court of Appeal Justices expressed their astonishment at the unimaginable suffering inflicted upon Hope. They deemed the original 44-year sentence as lenient and invoked their discretionary powers to increase Wasswa’s punishment to life imprisonment.
“From the evidence, this court found that the victim’s tongue was severed, her teeth were yanked out, and there were several cuts in the stomach. Her fingers and feet were also maimed. Her skull had become as soft as that of a new borne. Her labia minora had been mutilated. There was spasticity in all limbs. She had suffered contortion of the torso and has become a paraplegic who can neither walk, talk, sit, or even move. She has lost the ability to chew or feed herself and can neither roll nor turn,” said the Justices.
To condemn such acts of kidnapping and attempt to heal the scars of victims like Hope, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, in collaboration with Kyampisi Child Care Ministries, organizes the annual Hope Gala. This year’s event is scheduled to take place on July 28th, 2023, in Kampala.
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