12 April 2011

Uganda: Opposition Leaders Arrested

Opposition politicians, including Dr Kizza Besigye and Mr Norbert Mao, were arrested yesterday morning and charged hours later with alleged incitement to cause violence and failure to obey lawful orders.

A day earlier, Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura had said their walk-to-work campaign, to be staged every Monday and Thursday in solidarity with Ugandans suffering under the weight of sharply rising fuel and commodity prices, would not be allowed to take place.

The opposition leaders, however, set off from their respective Kampala homes early in the day only to be stopped in their tracks by security personnel.

Dr Besigye, who was arrested with five aides, appeared before a fully packed Magistrate's Court at Kasangati where he denied the charges.

He had intended to walk to his office in Najjanankumbi but was stopped a kilometre from his home, leading to a fracas.

"It is my right to walk to work," Dr Besigye told the policemen. "As you talk to me, you are making money. I, on the other hand is losing money, so I need to get to work," he added as he tried to push his way through the policemen. Dr Besigye was ordered onto a police pick-up truck but he declined, deciding to sit on the road.

Shortly afterwards, CID Deputy Director Geoffrey Musana ordered that he be bundled onto the truck. Catholic Priest Fr Anthony Musala who was at the scene expressed dismay at how Dr Besigye was treated.

"This is an infringement of people's rights and of the rights of our brother. I am going to pray so that God intervenes ... We should be ready to fight for our freedoms. Our government should understand that this country is for all of us," Fr Musala said.

Police would later fire tear gas to disperse an angry crowd that gathered at Kasangatti Police Station where the FDC leader was detained. The people responded by pelting stones. FDC secretary general and Soroti Woman MP Alice Alaso, who was at the police station, accused the police of "turning into an instrument of brutality".

In Ntinda, former presidential candidate and Democratic Party president general Mao, was arrested and detained at Kiira Road Police Station.

He had been stopped at Ntinda trading centre as he walked to work, with a crowd forming around him. "I am not guilty, I have not committed any offence," Mr Mao told the police commander as he was arrested.

In the eastern suburb of Nakawa, MPs-elect, Wafula Oguttu, Nandala Mafabi, Abdu Katuntu and Jack Sabiiti, were also detained after being roughed up. They were held at Jinja Road Police Station.


Maj. Gen. Kayihura described the arrests as "a few incidents in which persons involved in protests violated the law'.

In a press conference, Uganda Peoples Congress leader Olara Otunnu yesterday said President Museveni and Maj. Gen. Kayihura should be held responsible for causing confusion in and around the city.

Human rights organisations including Amnesty International condemned yesterday's arrests of the opposition politicians. DemGroup called on government and police to be less paranoid about civil action.

Amnesty's researcher on Uganda, Dr Godfrey Odongo, said the disruption of peaceful protests and demonstrations and the ban on public rallies "violate the right to freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly provided for under Uganda's Constitution and international law, to which Uganda is party".

Reported by John Njoroge, Emmanuel Mulondo, Philippa Croome, Mercy Nalugo, Annah Nafula and Richard Wanambwa

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