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UGANDA: Opposition leader to appear in court amid tight security

KAMPALA, 24 November 2005 (IRIN) - Ugandan authorities have tightened security and banned public demonstrations in support of detained opposition leader Kizza Besigye who is expected to face treason and rape charges in court on Thursday.

The government also stopped all radio talk show programmes from discussing the Besigye case, saying the matter was before the courts of law.

There was a heavy deployment of police and other security personnel in the capital, Kampala, especially around the courts.

Interior Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said demonstrations were likely to compromise Besigye's right to a fair trial.

"Since the trial of Kizza Besigye and others has commenced no demonstrations/processions in respect of or incidental to that case shall be held until the case has been concluded by the courts of law," Rugunda said in a statement on Wednesday.

Besigye, the leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), is widely seen as President Yoweri Museveni's main challenger in presidential elections scheduled for March 2006.

He was arrested on 14 November and charged with planning to overthrow the government. Besigye is also accused of committing rape in 1997.

His arrest sparked street riots in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, in which at least two people died and dozens were arrested.

Twenty one other people, said to be Besigye’s associates, faced separate court-martial proceedings before a military tribunal four days after they were arrested on charges of terrorism and illegal weapons possession.

They were granted bail by the high court, but their sureties refused to sign the bail papers after heavily armed men surrounded the courthouse ready to re-arrest the suspects. The Ugandan army later explained that the armed men, who were dressed in black T-shirts, had been deployed to re-arrest the suspects to answer charges in the military court.

Besigye was Museveni's personal doctor during the guerrilla war that ousted Milton Obote and brought Museveni into power in 1986. He lost to Museveni in the 2001 presidential elections and fled Uganda soon after the polls, alleging that his life was in danger.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged on Wednesday the Ugandan government to reverse the ban on speech and demonstrations linked to Besigye's trial. It also called for an end to "intimidation of the courts".

"In an eight-day span, the Ugandan government has seriously damaged its human rights reputation by riding roughshod over the rights of political opponents and the courts," said Jemera Rone, Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"The government has arrested the main presidential opponent, used commandos to intimidate the judiciary and banned all public protests, radio discussions and even posters on the subject."

"Opposition supporters in Uganda have a right to peacefully protest any aspect of the judicial proceedings," Rone added. "They also have the right to demonstrate in support of their presidential candidate's freedom".

Theme (s): Conflict,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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