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Uganda's Besigye Gets Passport but Says It's Too Late to Travel

Uganda opposition leader Kizza Besigye says the courts Thursday gave him his passport to travel to the United States to attend a conference of Ugandans in North America which takes place this weekend. But he says he will not make it to the conference because all flights out of Uganda are booked until the first of September.

Besigye was released on bail a year and a half ago from charges of treason. One of the conditions for his release was to surrender his passport to the Ugandan courts.

Meanwhile, the Ugandan government said it does not interfere with what the courts do in Uganda.

But Besigye told VOA the courts’ decision to hear his passport request on the day he was supposed to travel is suspicious.

“I have no evidence of a deliberate action. What I certainly know was that it was unreasonable for anybody to fix a hearing of an application of this nature on the day when I should have been traveling. My application documents included my travel schedule, and it included the explanation that I needed the passport way in advance of my travel date in order to organize the necessary visas, and there was ample time for the courts to fix a convenient date for both papers. The court had more than two weeks to do that. So I found it very clear that the date that could be fixed was only this morning after my flight had left. And that is in spite of every attempt by our lawyers to persuade them otherwise,” he said.

A Ugandan government delegation led by the vice president is said to be in the United States to attend the same conference, which Besigye was supposed to have attended.

While he would not say whether the Ugandan government deliberately sabotaged his trip to the United States, Besigye said he would not be surprised if the government did.

“If they did it would be perfectly in fashion with how they conduct their business. But I think the government obviously would have felt uncomfortable at my participation in this particular conference. I understand that the government is being represented by His Excellency the Vice President of Uganda. By the way, the theme of the conference is to talk about technology and diversity. It’s quite intriguing that people would do what they have done to stop other voices from being represented at that conference,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Ugandan government said it does not interfere with what courts do in Uganda.

“First of all, I’d like to state categorically that the judiciary in Uganda is independent and that the executive does not interfere with it whatsoever. Secondly, the judiciary works at its own programs and pace. It cannot be tied down with mere presence of Mr. Besigye,” said Hope Mwesigye, Uganda’s minister of state for local government.

Mwesigye said Besigye is not above the law, and she hoped he would use the opportunity of getting his passport to travel to the United States.

“Doctor Besigye is an ordinary Ugandan just like Hope Mwesigye. Our constitution provides that all people are equal before and under the law. That’s Article 32 of our constitution,” she said.

Mwesigye again denied any assertion that the Ugandan government might have influenced the courts’ decision to delay granting Doctor Besigye his passport.

“President Museveni has not given any orders to anybody. That is propaganda, and I wish to ask those people who are masquerading that type of propaganda to abandon it,” Mwesigye said.