Uganda court acquits opposition leader of charges in 'Walk to Work' protests

[JURIST] A Ugandan court Tuesday acquitted opposition leader Kizza Besigye [JURIST news archive] of charges of rioting and inciting violence. Besigye was arrested earlier this year [JURIST report] in connection with protests against rising food and fuel costs. The protests were known as the "Walk to Work" protests [VOA report] because participants refrained from taking motor vehicles to show their discontent over high fuel prices. The demonstrations turned violent and led to large numbers of arrests and injuries as well as several deaths [TIME report]. While being arrested, Besigye himself was shot in the hand and abused by police. On his release, Besigye said that the government should "become serious" and avoid unjustly prosecuting political opponents [AP report].

Besigye's prosecution garnered international attention. Earlier this year, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged [JURIST report] Uganda's government to stop using what she called excessive force against Besigye and other protesters. Pillay also criticized [Reuters report] the government's treatment of Bezigye during one of his arrests, where a video showed government forces breaking into his SUV [BBC report], shooting pepper spray directly into his face and forcing him into the back of a pickup truck. Besigye is the leader of Uganda's most prominent opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change [part website]. He lost to incumbent President Yoweri Museveni [BBC profile] in elections held this past February. The elections were criticized by the opposition as fraudulent [Guardian report]. Besigye also ran for president [BBC report] in 2002 and 2006, and, prior to that, he was Museveni's personal doctor. In October 2010, Uganda's Constitutional Court unanimously dismissed treason charges [JURIST report] against Besigye and 10 co-defendants, ruling that there was insufficient evidence and that the state had violated the defendants' rights. Besigye had been charged [JURIST report] with plotting to forcefully overthrow the Ugandan government between 2001 and 2004 but had always maintained his innocence, calling the charges against him politically motivated.

 

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