Witch doctor’s appeal for 45-year jail term unsuccessful; court imposes life imprisonment instead


In 2017, Stephen Wasswa received a 45-year prison sentence from Judge John Eudes Keitirima of Masaka High Court after being found guilty of kidnapping a two-year-old toddler in 2008. The incident took place at Namiyaga Village in Rakai district, where Wasswa, a witch doctor, abducted the girl with the intention of killing her. He held a grudge against the girl’s parents, accusing them of poisoning his chickens.


The young girl had gone to fetch firewood with her siblings on July 19, 2008, but never returned home. Despite efforts to locate her, she remained missing, and Wasswa disappeared from the village shortly after the incident.



A year and a half later, on December 13, 2009, a Good Samaritan named Agnes Nankya, along with an unidentified herdsman, heard cries from a child in the bushes. Upon investigation, they found the victim, a young girl with half her tongue cut off, 14 cuts on her stomach, and unable to speak properly. Nankya took her to the hospital and cared for her, but an unknown man visited and harassed Nankya for rescuing the girl.


Nankya refused the man’s request to cut off the girl’s hair and nails. With the help of the police and radio announcements, they were able to locate the girl’s mother, who was then reunited with her child. Nankya provided descriptions of the man who had threatened to harm the girl, leading to Wasswa’s eventual arrest.


In court, Wasswa was convicted of kidnapping with the intent to murder, according to sections 240 and 243 of the Penal Code Act. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison, but he appealed the sentence, claiming it was too severe.

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A panel of three justices from the Court of Appeal, led by Deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera and including Catherine Bamugemereire and Eve Luswata, reviewed the case. They observed the child’s current condition through a video link and saw the severe injuries she had endured. Her tongue was severed, teeth yanked out, several cuts on her stomach, maimed fingers and feet, a soft skull like a newborn, mutilated labia minora, spasticity in all limbs, and severe contortion. She had become a paraplegic, unable to move, walk, talk, sit, or feed herself. The justices were appalled by the gruesome acts committed by the witch doctor, which left the girl permanently disabled.


Given the horrifying nature of the crime and its impact on the victim, the Court of Appeal invoked its powers under section 11 of the Judicature Act and section 132 of the Trial on Indictments Act to enhance the sentence. Consequently, Wasswa’s sentence was increased to life imprisonment, and the appeal against the sentence was denied.

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