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Lecture | Studium Generale

Freedom Lecture: Fighting the Death Penalty and Reviewing Life Imprisonment

Wednesday 20 October 2021
Turfmarkt 99
2511 DP The Hague

A joint lecture by Susan Kigula and Marieke Liem, in the context of the World Day Against the Death Penalty on 31/10/2021.

This lecture is organized by Studium Generale, i.c.w. de Balie’s Freedom Lecture programme, Paula & Jan Banning, Stichting Democratie en Media and Vfonds.

Vaccinations and/or self-tests

We assume that visitors have been vaccinated. We trust that visitors who have not been vaccinated will take a self-test to make sure that they do not have covid-19. However, self-tests and PCR tests are not compulsory.

Registering for the lecture

In order to be able to notify all visitors if someone in the room unexpectedly tested positive after the lecture, we ask you to register via the online form that can be found here.

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If you test positive for coronavirus after having visited our events, please let us know via an e-mail to Studium Generale. This information will allow us to take steps to prevent others from being infected. We will ensure that your details remain anonymous and data protection regulations are observed. Under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), reporting of corona infections is always voluntary. Reports are not recorded and there is no database where information is held.

Face masks

As of 25 September you no longer need to wear a face mask when walking around University buildings. Anyone who wishes to may, of course, still wear one. Lecturers may also ask their students to wear a face mask during lectures or tutorials.

One-and-a-half-metre distancing

The one-and-a-half-metre distancing is no longer required in Leiden University buildings. This applies to teaching rooms, offices and the cafés and restaurants in our buildings. It is advisable, however, to maintain some distance from others. Posters in the building show which safety measures apply. There are one-way systems in corridors and staircases to prevent crowding. Follow the instructions on the posters, signs and screens, as well as from the staff of the University Services Department, traffic marshals and lecturers.


In areas where a lot of people come together it is important that there is good ventilation. All teaching areas at the University are ventilated in line with the requirements of the RIVM and the building regulations. In almost all teaching areas this is managed centrally via mechanical ventilation which is switched on early in the morning. If you have any questions about the ventilation in the lecture room, please contact the Service Desk in the relevant location.

Please register for the lecture here. You will receive a reminder a day before the event. If you experience any problems while registering, please send an e-mail to Studium Generale.

Susan Kigula - Changing the Ugandan Legal System From Behind Bars

Until 2009, Uganda had a mandatory death sentence - regardless of circumstances, people were sentenced to death for particular crimes. This was also the case for Susan Kigula, who was accused of the murder of her partner Constantine Sseremba. The court case hinged on the testimony of her three-year-old stepson. Susan Kigula herself did not confess to the murder, but since she could not afford a lawyer, her account of the events was not taken into consideration. She was sentenced to death and imprisoned in Luzira Women’s Prison to await her execution. Like other (often wrongfully accused) Ugandan prisoners on death row, Kigula spent years living in uncertainty and fear.

Susan Kigula in Luzira Women's Prison, 2013. © Jan Banning

In her lecture, Susan Kigula will share how she became the driving force bringing change to this policy. Having managed to get the means to educate herself and other inmates, from behind bars she challenged the Ugandan legal system in the 2009 case Attorney General v Susan Kigula & 417 Ors. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court of Uganda refused to abolish the death penalty. However, the judges did rule that the death penalty would no longer be mandatory.  They also ruled that people could no longer be kept on death row indefinitely: now, if convicts are not executed in three years, the sentence is automatically turned into life imprisonment. Furthermore, the Supreme Court ruled that convicts could go back to the High Court for retrial. In that respect, the case strengthened Kigula's hope for justice.

Two years after the lawsuit, Kigula became the first female inmate studying law at the University of London. In the lecture, she will discuss her studies, and how after having been released, she still offers legal aid to indigent defendants. What’s more: working with Justice Defenders, Kigula is now in the process of establishing the world’s first prison-based legal college and law firm, with the goal to have prisoner lawyers represent peers unable to afford legal help. 

Luzira Women's Prison, 2013. © Jan Banning

Marieke Liem - After Life Imprisonment

Presently, there are roughly 500,000 persons serving formal life sentences around the world. Whilst many have been sentenced to life without the possibility of release, some of these prisoners serving “life” will be released back into society. But what becomes of those people who re-enter the everyday world after serving life in prison? In this presentation, Marieke Liem examines the experiences of lifers after their release. Reflecting on roadblocks to re-entry, including challenges of employment, interpersonal relationships, and residual effects of imprisonment, she reconsiders life beyond prison. 

Discussion and Q&A

After their talks, Susan Kigula and Marieke Liem will engage in a discussion with each other, and take questions from the audience.

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