At least 44 people were on Thursday sentenced by the Kasese Magistrate’s Court for encroaching on a forest reserve. There were tears as some of them were handed a five-week jail sentence for encroaching on Mubuku Forest reserve.
The 44 people pleaded guilty before Grade One Magistrate Patrick Bamuhiga. They were arrested at the weekend for illegally partitioning 1,662 acres of the forest reserve located in Maliba Sub-county.
Some wives and children of the accused endured the mid-morning rain to protest before court but police deployed to kick them out of the court premises.
The magistrate, who had already made a ruling on Tuesday, went on to sentence 21 men to five weeks imprisonment. He also sentenced 19 others, who included women and elderly men, to one month of community service at the Rukoki and Bugoye health centres III.
Four people who included three juveniles and a disabled man were sentenced to caution. Their lawyer, Mr Geoffrey Sibendire, had earlier on asked court to give his clients a non-custodial sentence because they acted out of desperation over the scarcity of land in the district. But the presiding magistrate concurred with the state prosecutor, Mr Mike Mwanje, to hand the men a custodial sentence of five weeks to deter people who wants to grab government land.
According to Section 32 (2) of the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003, a person convicted of encroaching on a forest serves three years in jail or pays a fine not less than Shs600,000.