bY Paul Ndiho
May 1, 2011
Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni finally bowed to pressure on Friday and allowed opposition leader Kizza Besigye travel Kenya to seek medical treatment. Just one day earlier, police smashed the window of Besigye’s vehicle repeatedly spraying him with pepper spray, damaging his eyes.
The top United States diplomat for Africa is calling on the government of President Yoweri Museveni to act in a “responsible and civil” manner toward anti-government protesters. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, says he is alarmed at the way the Ugandan opposition leader is being treated and has called Uganda’s foreign minister to discuss his dismay at the apparent “harassment” of Kizza Besigye. Besigye’s latest arrest came just one day after his release from prison for leading a similiar “walk to work” demonstration last week.
“We have seen the reports of the arrest of several former presidential candidates for attempting to carry out peaceful demonstrations in Kampala that were designed to highlight rising oil and food prices. We have also seen with great concern and regret the very serious and apparent mistreatment of one of those candidates, Dr. Besigye. We have expressed our concern about what appears to be harassment of President–, of Dr. Besigye. I have myself spoken to the Ugandan foreign minister about this and have urged that the Ugandan government act, both, in a responsible and civil fashion in dealing with the arrest of individuals attempting to carry out peaceful protests.”
On Friday, security forces tried to quell the riots that erupted on the streets of Kampala, over the treatment of Besigye. At least 5 people died after security forces fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse protesters.
Besigye appeared in court on last Thursday, slumped forward in his chair, his ear bandaged and eyes covered with tissues after he was arrested in a fifth round of protests against high food and fuel prices.
His lawyer David Mpanga, says he was unable to make a plea because he could not open his eyes or talk. The judge, concluding he was in poor health, adjourned the case until Monday without reading out charges and released him on bail.
“What is happening increasingly I think is looking like persecution, I think government is not happy with what Dr. Besigye may be saying or expressing himself about and they are determined not let him do so because now it appears he cannot walk to work, but neither can he drive to work or any part of town without facing arrest.”
This is the fourth time in three weeks that Besigye, runner-up to long-time President Yoweri Museveni in a disputed February election, has been detained and violently rousted by police.
“I’m here to see the speaker of parliament because our nation is going down, our nation is going in ruins and they are doing nothing. We haven’t heard the speaker say anything; we haven’t heard any Member of Parliament come to say anything. They are sitting there, they are quiet, yet the nation every day the situation is getting worse and worse. They should come up and say something so that people can have hope.”
Some of Uganda’s constitutional lawyers and opposition figures are calling on the Museveni’s security forces to stop using excessive force because Article 24 of the Ugandan Constitution — which says “No person shall be subjected to any form of torture or cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment,”
Ugandan lawyers accused the country’s security agencies on Wednesday (May 04) of committing crimes against humanity in their crackdown on the ongoing protests over rising food and fuel prices.
For nearly a month, the east African country’s capital Kampala and several other towns have been hit intermittently by demonstrations spearheaded by the opposition which have been quashed by the security forces.
About 200 lawyers dressed in their black robes converged on the High Court’s front lawn and the Uganda Law Society’s President Bruce Kyerere gave a petition to the chief justice.
“The indiscriminate beating of the members of the public and indeed the inhumanly and degrading treatment of citizens of this country in the most brutal and violent arrests of the various members of the public, including senior and respectable opposition leaders… My lord as you can see a whole catalogue of these atrocities indeed qualifies to be categorized as crimes against humanity.”
Museveni’s critics argue that images of security personnel smashing car windows with guns or pointing weapons at people is something that reminds Ugandan’s of previous brutal regimes.
Kizza Besigye’s loss in Uganda’s February presidential election to Yoweri Museveni, was his third straight defeat — and had threatened to end his political career. Now, some analysts say the “walk to work” protests are giving the tireless opposition leader new political life.