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Lawyers' Strike Stops Ugandan High Court


Lawyers in Uganda's High Court Monday demonstrated against what they say is government interference in the judiciary. The demonstration follows the recent arrest and detention of an opposition leader.

The president of the Uganda Law Society, Moses Adriko, tells VOA more than 200 lawyers in the capital Kampala and five other locations across the country participated in Monday's demonstrations.

"The whole purpose of our demonstration today was to once again remind the executive of the Republic of Uganda that it must adhere to the rule of law, respect the independence of the judiciary, and stop eroding and undermining the judiciary," said Mr. Adriko. "It must also respect the independence of the legal profession, because the independence of the legal profession is under attack."

Mr. Adriko says that what sparked Monday's protests was the way in which the Ugandan government handled the recent case of Dr. Kizza Besigye.

Dr. Besigye, once President Yoweri Museveni's personal physician, heads the political party Forum for Democratic Change and is said to be a strong contender against Mr. Museveni in next year's elections.

Dr. Besigye was arrested recently and charged in High Court with treason and rape. Last week, he appeared before a military court on terrorism charges.

During a bail hearing at High Court on November 16, heavily armed army commandos dressed in black were deployed outside the building and arrested suspects accused along with Dr. Besigye who had been granted bail.

During Dr. Besigye's appearance before military court last week, two of his civilian lawyers were found in contempt of court, held for a few hours, and then fined.

Law society head Mr. Adriko says the siege by the commandos hit he and his colleagues particularly hard.

"In addition to demonstrating, we performed a cleansing ritual. Last week, the principle judge said the High Court, the temple of justice, had been desecrated after these armed men besieged the High Court. So we the lawyers performed a ritual whereby we cleansed the High Court of the desecration," he added.

Mr. Adriko says his group is considering filing a petition in the constitutional court to challenge whether or not a person can get a free and fair trial in military court and whether or not civilians can be tried in military court.

The government maintains that there is sufficient evidence that Dr. Besigye is involved in the People's Redemption Army rebel group based in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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