Uganda opposition leader pleads not guilty to unlawful assembly charges

[JURIST] Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye [JURIST news archive] pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of unlawful assembly stemming from an incident at a protest last week. Besigye and other protesters were arrested last week [BBC report] after a police officer was killed while attempting to disperse the crowd. Besigye denies that any of the protesters were involved in the officer's death. Besigye was acquitted of similar charges [JURIST report] last August. He was accused of rioting and inciting violence 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].

Besigye's last prosecution gained international attention. He was arrested in 2011 [JURIST report] for his involvement in the "Walk to Work" protests. Earlier that 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. Besigye is the leader of Uganda's most prominent opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change [party website]. He lost to incumbent President Yoweri Museveni [BBC profile] in elections held in February 2010. 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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