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Ugandan Opposition Candidate's Wife, Party Official to Face Libel Charges


The wife of Ugandan opposition presidential candidate Kizza Besigye and a senior party official are scheduled to appear in court next week. The court appearance involves a confidential letter the two sent to a senior judge last month expressing their concerns about bribery in upcoming cases.

In a letter last month, Winnie Byanyima and Jack Sabiiti asked Chief Justice Benjamin Odoki to investigate claims that President Yoweri Museveni paid more than $100,000 to two high court judges to influence the outcome of opposition presidential candidate Kizza Besigye's upcoming treason, rape, and terrorism trials.

Byanyima and Sabiiti were issued criminal summons Tuesday and face four counts of libel and giving false information. They are scheduled to appear in court on January 24.

A defense lawyer in Besigye's cases, Sam Njuba, says he thinks Chief Justice Odoki acted unprofessionally in publicizing the letter's contents. Njuba says the judge should have met with the letter's writers privately and asked them to substantiate the bribery claims.

Njuba says he believes the government set up the situation to make the opposition look bad.

"The state may have made some arrangement to trap them into believing the story and then turning around and saying, 'see how the opposition is behaving irresponsibly,'" he said. "They [the government] could have given them the information deliberately."

Senior presidential advisor John Nagenda rejects the idea that the government supplied the two with false information to attack the opposition's reputation.

"I think it will take a mad person to just get the information [and] not check it out [and] put it out," he said. "If they fell for something which had been put there so in the end they would look stupid, then they deserve everything they get."

Nagenda calls the bribery allegations "absolute rubbish," and says he thinks it is not within the president's character to bribe judges.

Opposition presidential candidate Kizza Besigye faces charges of terrorism and illegal possession of firearms in a military court, and treason and rape charges in civilian court. He was detained for almost two months and was released several weeks ago.

It is widely believed that the charges are politically motivated, designed to prevent Besigye from campaigning fully and to ruin his reputation.

The opposition politician was once Mr. Museveni's personal physician and is seen to be a serious contender against the president.

Mr. Museveni and his government have come under fire internationally for Besigye's detention. Sweden, Britain, Norway, Ireland and The Netherlands have withheld part of their funding because of concerns about democracy.