A Ugandan pastor who killed a 4-year-old child in a ritual murder in a twisted effort to grow his church’s fortunes has been sentenced to life imprisonment after pleading guilty to murder charges.
Joseph Sserubiri, 30, of Deliverance and Healing Ministry in Kakira Town Council, located in the country’s Jinja District, was convicted of murder and human trafficking following his plea on Aug. 1 before Judge Winfred Nabisinde.
Sserubiri was also sentenced to 30 years in prison for human trafficking and is expected to serve the two sentences concurrently.
Police in Uganda discovered 72 cases of ritual sacrifice in 2022 alone, according to authorities. This was up from 46 the previous year. Despite enacting tougher laws and longer prison sentences, the practice continues to be an issue, especially in rural areas. Some Ugandans believe witchcraft has power in the shedding of blood. Typically, that blood is shed from animals — but as people have become more desperate to manipulate and appease spirits, some have turned to killing humans.
These ritualistic murders are nothing new. In 2008, for example, more than 300 cases of murder and disappearances linked to ritual ceremonies were reported to police.
Cases such as the one involving Sserubiri have garnered significant attention, both in Uganda and internationally, due to their heinous nature and violation of human rights. The Ugandan government and law enforcement agencies have made efforts to combat these crimes, but addressing the issue has proven to be complex due to a combination of deeply-rooted cultural beliefs and poverty.
It was on Sept. 30, 2021 when Sserubiri, together with his girlfriend Felista Namaganda, said he lured Isabella Trinity Nakisuyi from her parents’ home using a piece of cake, then took the girl to their church. It was there where they sacrificed her. Nakisuyi’s father was also Sserubiri’s landlord.
After murdering the girl, the couple wrapped her head in a polythene bag and buried it under a tree while the torso was dumped in the nearby sugarcane field, where the body parts were later retrieved by authorites.
Sserubiri was arrested on Dec. 6, 2021, together with Namaganda and Buyinza Ssekabira, a senior pastor at Deliverance and Healing Ministries, for their collaboration in the murder of Nakisuyi, police said.
Sserubiri told the judge that before performing the ritual murder, he had a dream where had been instructed by his spiritual father to sacrifice a child in order to expand their church’s fortunes.
“Christianity also condemns it,” the judge said, “because the Bible doesn’t talk about sacrificing a human being to become rich. This is a ruthless murder done by a mature person.”
Authorities said Sserubiri had slit the girl’s throat as Namaganda collected the blood in a container for ritual purposes. Sserubiri told the court they poured the blood in a toilet — as the ritual required of them — to get more powers and wealth over other pastors in Uganda.
In her ruling, Nabisinde said Sserubiri deserved a long sentence.
“I have sentenced you to life imprisonment to prevent other people who intend to do the same and to provide justice for the innocent and vulnerable child who trusted an adult whom she knew to take her away from her parent’s home and who could not fight for herself and justice for the parents and the community who were shocked by the incident,” she said.
The judge added, “The move was planned, calculated because things like a knife, tapeline, sack were brought to sacrifice a child with the intention to enrich themselves and to enlarge the church.”
The judge added that human sacrifice has become rampant in parts of eastern Uganda and therefore there was a need to hand over a sentence that could serve as a deterrent.
Kyampisi Childcare Ministries, one of the NGOs spearheading the fight against child sacrifice in Uganda, also welcomed the sentence.
“We applaud the collaborative efforts that brought this case’s legal process,” the group said. “The other suspects who are associates to this case will go through full trial in the coming weeks. Slowly change is on its way.”
John Semakula is an award winning Ugandan Journalist and writer for Religion Unplugged based in Mukono, Uganda.
Produced in association with Religion Unplugged