East African community official granted bail after torture accusations

James Ocen Okuja, the Principal Assistant Secretary in the East African Community Affairs Ministry is in trouble for alleged torture. Ocen appeared before Alex Mushabe Korecho, the Lira Chief Magistrate on Tuesday afternoon on two counts of torture contrary to section 24 of the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act 2012.

He is accused of torturing and inflicting serious injuries on 31-year-old Paul Ocen, a UPDF soldier attached to the 63 Infantry Battalion Headquarters at Palaro Barracks in Gulu and Lameck Owong, a resident of Acengryeny in Dokolo district.

Prosecution led by Washua Bengu, the State Prosecutor told court that Ocen tortured the duo when they went to celebrate International Labor Day at his Dokolo hotel. According to Bengu, the two were part of several revelers who were rounded up by Ocen and others still at large on allegations of trespass and vandalizing hotel property.

It is alleged that after rounding up their victims, Ocen and his accomplices tied them with ropes and tortured them overnight before he called the Dokolo District Police Commander, Aminsi Kayondo Lukanga to collect them the following morning.

Prosecution alleges that the suspects were smeared with a mixture of ash and salt before they were assaulted with hot metallic objects. Ocen pleaded not guilty to the charges and applied for bail through his lawyer, Innocent Omara of Omara Innocent and Company Advocate on grounds of ill health and being of advanced age.

He presented his uncle Faustine Pule, a resident of Adari b village in Dokolo and his sister, Otak Esther Okuja, the Lira District Senior Accountant as his sureties. Bengu objected to the bail application, saying Ocen could use his influential position in society to interfere with the investigations and compromise witnesses in the case.

In his ruling, the Chief Magistrate Alex Mushebe Kerecho, said being of advanced age and his medical condition, the accused requires continuous medical attention, which the state may not provide. He also said the prosecution had failed to adduce evidence showing that the accused would jeopardize investigations and compromise witnesses once given bail.

He granted Ocen bail and directed him to deposit his passport in court and execute a cash bond of Shillings 300,000.  Each of his sureties executed a non-cash bond of Shillings 500,000. Ocen, who met all the bail conditions, is expected to return to court on May 31st for the commencing of the hearing of his case.

The suspect who was dressed in a Dark-Blue suit and dark blue necktie doted white, appeared nervous throughout the fully packed court session. He loosened up as he walked out of the court room with his son. Once found guilty, Ocen could get up to 15 years in jail as provided for in the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act 2012.

Section 4 (1) of the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Act 2012, provides that a person who performs any act of torture commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for fifteen years or to a fine of three hundred and sixty currency points which is equivalent to Shillings 7.2 Million or both.