Ugandan court dismisses charges against opposition leader


A court dismissed charges against Uganda’s main opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, related to his participation in violent protests against high food and fuel prices earlier this year in which several people were killed.

The east African country was rattled by widespread opposition led anti-government protests in April and May, sparked by rising consumer prices, and Besigye was arrested and charged in court and beaten severely by security agents.

Magistrate George Watyekere threw out the charges against Besigye after finding that the state’s evidence was implausible, David Mpanga, a lawyer for the opposition leader told Reuters.

Charges against Besigye included disobeying lawful orders, rioting and inciting violence.
“The magistrate found the evidence adduced by the state self-contradictory,” Mpanga said.
“Its witnesses were not credible and it (state) also failed to prove Besigye had incited anyone and he (magistrate) dismissed all the charges.”

Besigye told local media he planned to resume the protest.

He was quoted as saying he would on Wednesday travel to the town of Masaka in southwest Uganda to hold a candle light memorial service at the home of a 6-year-old girl who was shot and killed during one of the protests, dubbed “walk to work”.

The protests provoked a government crackdown in which nine people were killed and hundreds of others injured, according to Human Rights Watch, which also accused the police of using excessive force against unarmed civilians.

Although the violent demonstrations faded in June, they have since inspired a spate of strikes by teachers, traders and public transport drivers.

Besigye lost to incumbent President Yoweri Museveni in February’s presidential polls, garnering 26 percent against the latter’s 68 percent — the third time he had lost in the race for the top post to his former ally.

He alleged widespread rigging and blamed it for his loss.

Besigye was Museveni’s doctor during the guerrilla war that swept the rebel leader to power in 1986. But the two fell out and have been bitter rivals ever since.

Museveni, in power for 25 years, had vowed to crush the Besigye-led protests, blaming the rising food and fuel costs on drought and global increases in crude oil prices.

Although he was for long lauded as an exemplary African leader by the West, Museveni has lately come under mounting criticism from his previous backers and rights groups who say he is growing despotic and corrupt.