A Ugandan court has granted bail to a US couple charged with torturing their 10-year-old foster son, their lawyer told AFP on Thursday, three months after police arrested the pair.
According to court documents seen by AFP, Nicholas and Mackenzie Spencer, both 32, face charges of “aggravated trafficking” and committing “aggravated torture” against the boy between December 2020 and December 2022.
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The pair were arrested last December after the nanny of the child – who attended a special needs school – reported “repeated unbecoming inhumane treatment” to local police, according to official documents.
In addition to “aggravated torture” and child trafficking, an offence which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, prosecutors have also filed immigration charges based on allegations that the pair had overstayed their visa.
The couple, who have denied all charges, had been held at Luzira Prison, a maximum security facility on the outskirts of the capital Kampala, since December.
At the bail hearing on Wednesday, high court judge Isaac Muwata temporarily freed the couple on a cash bail of 50 million Ugandan shillings ($13,250) on the condition that they surrender their passports to Ugandan authorities, their lawyer David Mpanga told AFP.
The couple told the court that both of them suffer from a rare inherited condition that affects connective tissue and which cannot be adequately treated by the Uganda Prisons Service, a claim accepted by the judge.
When officers raided their house in December. Police said then that they found CCTV evidence showing that the child was forced to squat in an “awkward position,” served only cold food and made to sleep on a “wooden platform, without a mattress or bedding.”
Court documents subsequently revealed that the evidence was gathered from video filmed by the child’s nanny on her phone.
“The Spencers were dealing with a child who they love and wanted to foster and who had a certified medical condition they were trying to manage in very difficult circumstances with little support,” their lawyer Mpanga said.
“It’s a tragic case. Terrible for the child, terrible for them,” he added.
The boy was one of three children fostered by the couple, who arrived in the East African country in 2017 to volunteer at a US-based non-profit in the town of Jinja before moving to Naguru, an upscale Kampala suburb, to work at a start-up.
International adoptions have sparked controversy in Uganda.
In 2020, the US government filed criminal charges and imposed economic sanctions against a US-based adoption ring that placed Ugandan children, who weren’t orphans, with families in the United States.
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