Leading U.S. Rights Group Denounces Charges Against Leader of Peaceful Opposition in Uganda

The Center for Constitutional Rights Expresses Concern over Misuse of Judiciary to Persecute Opposition Parties

Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) expressed deep concern over the trial of Dr. Kizza Besigye scheduled to begin this morning in a magistrate court in Kampala, Uganda. Dr Besigye, a leading opponent of the dictatorial regime of Yoweri Museveni is being tried on charges of “illegal assembly” arising from his ongoing nationwide “walk to work” protests, which began in April.

Statement by Vince Warren, Executive Director of the CCR

“The fundamental freedoms of assembly, speech, and association, are all guaranteed under the Ugandan Constitution. Further, the government’s violent response to peaceful protests is in violation of established international law.

It must stop immediately and this sham trial must be discontinued. It is particularly worrisome that the judiciary is being used as a means to persecute opposition parties and pro-democracy campaigners. This is a sign of a regime determined to squash any and all political dissent through extra-judicial means and must be challenged by all those who believe in the rule of law.

We are also extremely concerned about a proposed legislation—sponsored by President Yoweri Museveni—that would strip political protestors of the right to bail. This too is a profound attack on the rights of the Ugandan people to petition their government, and is a direct affront to one of the core principles of the rule of law—the presumption of innocence. As a constitutional state and signatory to key international human rights instruments Uganda must respect the rule of law and fundamental human rights, which include the rights to bail and to peacefully assemble.”

Dr. Besigye is the president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Uganda’s main opposition political party. He has been the foremost challenger to President Museveni for the last three election cycles. All opposition political parties unanimously reject the results of the February elections on the basis of widespread fraud, corruption, and misuse of state resources. The opposition further asserts that President Museveni misappropriated 300 million dollars of state funds to manipulate the general elections, resulting in the current national inflation. To protest the rising prices of food and public transportation beyond the means of ordinary Ugandans, Dr Besigye and other opposition leaders organized a nation-wide movement urging people to walk to work every Monday and Thursday. The peaceful demonstrations have been met with unprecedented violence by the government, including the use of live bullets, tear gas, and water cannons against unarmed civilians. Over 25 people have been killed, thousands injured, and hundreds unlawfully arrested and detained. Dr. Besigye has been arrested 5 times in the last six weeks, tear-gassed, and shot in his hand; the last assault against him resulted in an emergency medical evacuation to Kenya.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change. Visit www.ccrjustice.org.

CONTACT: David Lerner, Riptide Communications, 212.260.5000 Jen Nessel, 917.442.0112, [email protected].

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