Opposition members of Parliament in Uganda have staged a walkout to protest the continued detention of members of the rebel Peoples Redemption Army (PRA). The rebels are charged with treason and would be hanged if found guilty. Ogenga Latigo, Minority Leader in Parliament, accused the government of trying to subvert the country’s laws, after a constitutional court ordered the release of the rebels and declared their trial by a court martial illegal.
Ogenga Latigo said the opposition boycotted parliamentary proceedings because they were displeased with the way the state through a commando paramilitary unit known as the black mambas was still holding the rebels.
“Our walkout was really an expression of our extreme displeasure with the government and President Museveni because the Peoples Redemption suspects that were arrested in 2004 stayed in jail until last year when they went to court and were granted bail. They were never released because a the black mamba military forces blocked their release,” he said.
Ogenga said although a high court ruled that the suspects should be released, the government did not adhere to the order.
“Early this month, both the High Court and the Constitutional Court directed for their release. Again, they were no released, and then the High Court issued full orders requiring prison authorities to produce them in court. But all those orders were ignored, and we said the most effective way would be to express our displeasure with a practical walkout that the whole country and the international community would recognize,” Ogenga noted.
He said the opposition did not inform the Speaker of Parliament because of what he said would be a backlash of vindictiveness from the government.
“Knowing the situation in Uganda, we did not want to tell the Speaker we would walk out because if we did that the Speaker would have been unnecessarily accused of collaborating with the opposition to undermine the government. This is how this government operates. It would look for victims and people they can blame,” Ogenga said.
He said the walkout is a very strong indication of their opposition to what he said is illegal treatment of the suspects.
“But more importantly, the police suspected that maybe Parliament should say something about it. And they thought that they would stay around until Parliament rests. But we recognize that the best way was to walk out in silence and the absence of the opposition, which is a very loud statement. And then the country gets it, every time Parliament walks out,” he said.
Ogenga accused the government of using the black mamba paramilitary group to disrupt the suspects after the court had ordered their release.
“When they should have gotten the bail, the black mambas actually went to the grounds of the court and blocked the release of these people (suspects). Eventually these people decided to not to take the bail because they knew that they would be taken to some other place or probably even harmed,” he said.
Ogenga said the government showed it would not want to release the suspects because they changed the charges and hurled the suspects before a court martial.
“They went and changed the charges. They took the suspects to the general court martial and charged them with offenses that a civilian has never been charged with in a general court martial before. The constitutional court said what was happening was illegal, but still the state refused to release them,” he said.