Uganda: Don't Run to Us Since You're the People's President, Judges Tell Off Besigye

13 December 2019

A panel of five Constitutional court judges has dismissed an application by four-time presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye asking court to nullify the offence of unlawful assembly in the Penal Code Act.

The panel comprising Justices Kenneth Kakuru, Cheborion Barishaki, Elizabeth Musoke, Steven Musota and Geoffrey Kiryabwire delivered its verdict yesterday. On July 7, 2011, Besigye through his lawyers from A. F Mpanga petitioned the Constitutional court to scrap the offence of unlawful assembly from the Penal Code Act on grounds that it was unconstitutional.

In his suit, Besigye noted that the offence contravenes Articles 21, 27, 29 and 43 of the Constitution of Uganda, which guarantee equality and freedom from discrimination, right to privacy of persons, home and other property, protection of freedom of expression movement, assembly, association and human rights freedoms.

Besigye ran to court after he was picked up various times and arraigned before Kasangati and Nabweru Magistrate's courts for staging unlawful assemblies when he led the 'Walk to Work' protests in 2011 that were prompted by high commodity prices.

He asked the Constitutional court to declare his arrest and subsequent prosecution in various courts unconstitutional. However, the five-member panel of Constitutional court judges unanimously dismissed the application in their judgment read by Constitutional court registrar, Dr Agnes Nkonge.

The justices noted that they have looked at Besigye's political background and found that he has been in contempt of Supreme court orders resulting from the Amama Mbabazi presidential election petition challenging the declaration of President Yoweri Museveni as winner of 2016 elections.

The judges said they heard the merits of the petition and concluded that Museveni was the validly elected president. However, the judges noted that Besigye defied the orders and went ahead to swear in himself as the legitimate president of Uganda, appointed a cabinet and national assembly known as "People's Government"

The judges note that since Besigye argues that there is no validly elected government, it implies that there are no legally constituted courts of law and therefore they can't grant him the remedies he is seeking.

"I would therefore decline to grant him the remedies he seeks in the petition, maybe he will have to seek audience before his own court or before the "judge', who swore him in as president', reads the majority judgment written by justice Kakuru.

However, the justices note that the action by police to criminalize citizen's rights of political expression and association as set out in the petition is unconstitutional. The judges noted that hadn't they looked at the previous political conduct of Besigye; they would have allowed his application.

Besigye's lawyer, Sophie Nantamba Nyombi and Hilary Ebila who represented the attorney general declined to comment on the judgment. Nantamba said she would only comment after receiving a copy of the judgment.

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