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Ugandan Ex-Supreme Court Justice Questions Besigye Treason Charge

  • James Butty

FILE - Uganda's main opposition leader Kizza Besigye, center, is arrested by police and thrown into the back of a blacked-out police van which whisked him away and was later seen at a rural police station, outside his home in Kasangati, Uganda, Feb. 22, 2016.

FILE - Uganda's main opposition leader Kizza Besigye, center, is arrested by police and thrown into the back of a blacked-out police van which whisked him away and was later seen at a rural police station, outside his home in Kasangati, Uganda, Feb. 22, 2016.

A former Uganda Supreme Court justice says the government and police need to explain a treason charge against jailed opposition leader Kizza Besigye, who was arrested last week.

Besigye, runner-up in the February 18 presidential election to longtime incumbent Yoweri Museveni, was arrested Wednesday in Kampala after eluding the round-the-clock blockade and surveillance of his home on the city's outskirts. He was then flown to Moroto town in the northeastern subregion of Karamoja.

Museveni, whom the country's Electoral Commission declared the winner in the February election, was sworn in for a fifth presidential term Thursday. He has been in office since 1986.

However, on Wednesday, a video purportedly showing Besigye being sworn in as the new president of Uganda was placed on YouTube and being shared on Facebook and other social media platforms.

FILE - A Ugandan riot policeman blocks the gate of the party headquarters of opposition leader Kizza Besigye, shortly after raiding the premises for the second time in a week, in the capital Kampala, Uganda, Feb. 22, 2016.

FILE - A Ugandan riot policeman blocks the gate of the party headquarters of opposition leader Kizza Besigye, shortly after raiding the premises for the second time in a week, in the capital Kampala, Uganda, Feb. 22, 2016.

Charge questioned

George Kanyeihamba, a former Uganda Supreme Court justice, said given the information, he knows of no treasonable offense that Besigye has committed.

“Just before President Museveni was sworn in, something came on Twitter. We don’t know how true it was or what, saying that Kizza Besigye had gone through a form of swearing in. The picture showed a number of other people, Ugandans who had attended that presumably phantom ceremony," Kanyeihamba said.

"You would have expected if they genuinely committed treason the government of Uganda or the people of Uganda, that they will also be arrested,” he added.

Kanyeihamba said Ugandan authorities singled Besigye out from that purported Twitter picture and charged him with treason.

“We have not been given any details of particulars of what the charge is made of because the police have not come up with any particulars or detail of why, if it is true, he has been charged with treason,” he said.

Kanyeihamba said the government and the police need to explain the case.

A team of lawyers and officials from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party was to travel to Moroto to meet with Besigye.

FILE - Opposition leader and presidential candidate Kizza Besigye speaks to the media while under continued house arrest, at his home in Kasangati, outside the capital Kampala, in Uganda, Feb. 21, 2016.

FILE - Opposition leader and presidential candidate Kizza Besigye speaks to the media while under continued house arrest, at his home in Kasangati, outside the capital Kampala, in Uganda, Feb. 21, 2016.

Feared for life

Meanwhile, in an interview with Uganda Daily Monitor from his jail cell, Besigye questioned why authorities did not charge him in Kampala where he was arrested.

He told the newspaper he feared for his life at one point because the cell where they first kept him had three doors, one of which was not closed.

“I called one of the guards and asked him why they don’t close that door, but the guard said it was a directive from the district police commander," Besigye said.

Besigye described the case against him as “abnormal” and said he refused to give a statement to the police officers who came to get a statement from him Thursday.

“He told me that [there were] two charges [against me]: terrorism, because they got 20 pangas [machetes] from our party headquarters, and the second charge was treason because I had declared myself president of Uganda," he told the paper.

"So, I told him [the police detective] that since these are capital offenses, I will make my statement in the presence of my lawyers,” Besigye reportedly said.

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