The High Court in Kampala has ordered city lawyer, Male Mabirizi to pay Shs 300 million for contempt of court following posts on his social media platforms attacking judicial officers.
The High Court Civil Division Judge, Musa Ssekaana made the directive following a successful application by the Attorney General.
In the miscellaneous application number 843 of 2021, the Attorney General sought a declaration that Mabirizi was in contempt of court.
He also wanted the court to commit Mabirizi to civil prisons and, order him to pay the costs of the suit.
Trouble for Mabirizi started on October 25th, 2021 when he filed a case against Capital Markets Authority (CMA )challenging its decision to approve the MTN Uganda prospectus in respect of its Initial Public Offer (IPO) of more than 4 billion ordinary shares to the public.
Mabirizi sought an injunction restraining CMA from extending the MTN IPO window and listing their shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange on grounds that the company was not well incorporated in the country.
The matter came up before Civil Division Judge Phillip Odoki, who dismissed it with costs on November 26th, 2021 on the basis that Mabirizi did not have the locus to file the case against CMA because he did not have sufficient interest in the public offer.
Following the court decision, the Attorney General through State Attorneys, Patricia Mutesi and Jimmy Oburu Odoi filed an application in court to find Mabirizi in contempt of court and send him to civil prison for a minimum of six months.
They accused Mabirizi of taking to his social media platforms especially Twitter and Facebook to intimidate and threaten Justice Odoki prior to the delivery of his ruling, imputing improper motives of his judicial acts and decisions as well as attacking his character and competence.
They argued while on Twitter and Facebook, Mabirizi started asking the judge to rule in his favor because people had rendered that CMA was wrong to approve the MTN IPO.
To prove their case, the applicants presented statements from Mabirizi’s Twitter handle @MaleMabiriziHKK and Facebook page the Uganda Peoples’ interests.
“People have rendered the decision that @CMAUganda was wrong to approve @mtnug #MTNIPO…. it’s up to Judge ODOKI to rule either in line with Ugandans or a ‘misnomer’,” read one of the posts. Mabirizi attached the picture/photograph of Justice Phillip Odoki on the post.
“Notice of Appeal filed challenging the illegal ruling by judge Phillip Odoki who failed to decide on the legality of CMAUganda approval of @mtnug #MTNIPO sale of shares hiding in a technicality that I lack sufficient interest in “a public offer” =shame on him,” declared another post. “@IsaacSsemakadde, we have applied 4 transcribed proceedings which will further humiliate Judge Phillip Odoki: why did he waste our time from 3-7 pm hearing 5 issues yet he was 2 decide 1? @CMAUganda conceded “MTN Uganda limited” is nowhere & he is silent on it”, reads another post.
The Attorney General also presented other posts in which Mabirizi accused Justice Odoki of being incompetent and his petition to the Judicial Service Commission seeking to remove him as a Judge for alleged incompetence, posts of pictures of the then Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba as Odoki’s Best man on his 2009 wedding and other officials in government like former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi who attended the wedding and could have influenced his decision in favor of MTN.
Justice Ssekaaana asked the parties to make written submissions in the matter on December 22nd, 2021 to enable him to write his ruling on notice. However, only the Attorney General complied with Ssekaana’s order. Mabirizi only submitted an affidavit in response to the Attorney General’s application distancing himself from the accounts where the posts were extracted, saying they did not belong to him and there was no evidence to that effect.
In his ruling, Justice Ssekaana has agreed with the Attorney General and found Mabirizi in contempt of Court, arguing that his affidavit was a mere evasive denial and didn’t give any specific response.
“The evidence on record is sufficient to prove that both the Twitter handles and Facebook Page-Uganda People’s Interests belong to the Respondent-Male Mabirizi and his unique headed or colored and well-designed paper with complaints to Judicial Service Commission and other agencies”, said Ssekaana.
Adding that “therefore, the Respondent did not specifically deny Mr. Oburu’s factual statements that he owns the said media accounts or that he made the contemptuous comments, which were attributed to him”.
According to Ssekaana the posts also tended to lower the authority of Justice Odoki and the High Court, by suggesting that a ruling was not valid or had no legal effect and that it should not be accorded any respect by the public.
“By attacking the authenticity of the ruling, the Respondent’s statements tended to undermine the confidence of the public in whether judicial decisions of Justice Odoki and the High Court or the judiciary can be relied on as valid and genuine, which would tend to prejudice the public interest in the administration of justice”, added Ssekaana.
Ssekaana also reasoned that the court cannot continue to be in a ‘mute mode’ as the authority of the court is under attack, saying that such attacks on judicial officers should be condemned in the strongest terms since they have become ‘endangered species’ by social media and usually cannot defend themselves against such attacks.
Mabirizi has promised to appeal the decision, saying that he was never given a fair hearing.
He also noted that he asked Ssekaana to recuse himself from the case and he insisted to hear it. Mabirizi and Ssekaana’s feud started way back in 2019 in a case where he together with opposition leaders under the People’s Government Pressure Group led by Erias Lukwago were challenging the actions of Justice Simon Byabakama to continue working as the Electoral Commission Chairperson and without relinquishing his powers as a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
During the proceedings, Mabirizi wanted Byabakama summoned for cross-examination, which was rejected by Ssekaana, saying that he had only listed the Attorney General as the respondent to the suit.
However, Mabirizi insisted on his plea prompting Ssekaana to threaten to send him to prison.
He later gave him a go-ahead to make further submissions in what he described as ‘rubbish”. Since then, Ssekaana has made orders including some directing the Civil Division registry not to register Mabirizi’s cases related to the recruitment of Judicial officers by the Judicial Service Commission.
Some of the cases accepted by the registry often end up before Ssekaana to the chagrin of Mabirizi, saying that he can’t appear before Ssekaana since he threatened to send him to prison.
Mabirizi has since filed a petition before the Judicial Service Commission seeking Ssekaana’s removal for alleged incompetence.
A similar matter is pending before the East African Court of Justice.