Koriang, a Ugandan woman sentenced to death by military court

On Friday, newspaper headlines in Uganda featured the story of Judith Koriang, a 20 year-old woman was sentenced to death by the Court Martial in Soroti over the murder of her  soldier husband, Nelson Okello. According to the story, Koriang shot her husband with 30 bullets.

I intended to write something on this story, something I found a mess by the reporting of this story but I was in transit. A few hours later I see a story by Ultimate Media, which suggested that women activists in Uganda want to protect the murder. I find such reportage and conclusions abhorrent. It’s an easy way out on reporting a story. Just like the court that sentenced the woman, the failure to look at the condition of this woman is something we need to revisit.

It is not only Ultimate Media that has failed to critically report this story but it’s their shallow look at the concerns of women activists that rather shocked me.

The media in Uganda led with this story but failed to ask important questions regarding justice. As usual we are caught in the hotness of the story and we only realize we are not asking the important questions later. Why was the woman tried under the military court? How was the trial carried out? A civil court would look at this case differently no doubt.

This was Ultimate Media’s intro:

As long as murder cases have been committed by a woman, there is no problem at least in Uganda. The women rights activists in Kampala have today shocked the whole world when they pledged to assist a woman who was sentenced to death for killing her husband.

Beyond what transpired in the court, the media don’t want to look at the events in the lead up to the murder which could have a big impact on how this woman is tried. There’s a lot of violence against women who are HIV positive and there’s general lack of knowledge about discordance.

Even when women activists turned up and gave them an opportunity to revisits their coverage and the trial we are eager to jump to conclusions.

There was no connection of this kind of murder to the bigger picture.  Of course joining the condemnation is easier than critically analyzing such a case and the concerns of the women activists and the media often looks for the fast easy of interpreting events.

True Koriang killed her husband but under what circumstances? The soldier had accused this woman of bringing HIV to herself, an issue that is a sticky one for women in Uganda. Many women are isolated by families, kicked out of their home with no property and at worst if they stay they endure eternal suffering.  How we deal with such injustices will determine the occurrence of crimes like the one Koriang did.

Many men in Uganda continue to refuse to go for HIV tests and when women do find out about their status, they are blamed, battered and killed. There seems to be no distinction between who infected and who found out about the infection.

HIV is behind many domestic violence related deaths and therefore a mention such a factor in the case should make one think of the conditions of the woman before she committed murder.

This is not to suggest that Koriang was innocent but there seems to be more condemnation reports in the media than inquiries.

Ultimate Media quotes the Executive officer of FIDA Uganda, Maria Nassali who suggested that Koriang could have killed her husband out of “anger and provocation.” And this was enough for Ultimate Media to conclude that FIDA was protecting a murderer. What these reporters refuse to look at is the right of anyone murder or not, to a fair trial.

I need to know why this woman was tried by the military court when it is only her husband who was in the military. Why is the military taking over domestic violence cases? And why won’t the media question the ability of the military court to deliver this woman justice. I do support the efforts of the women activists in trying to make sure this case is re-visited. Not because I want to see Koriang absolved of the murder but that she gets fair trial and all conditions be factored in the trial. Her situation before she killed her husband matters a lot especially to many Ugandan women being battered every day.