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Court Rules The Court-Martial Of Ugandan Opposition Leader Illegal

Uganda's Constitutional Court has ruled that the trial of opposition leader Kizza Besigye in a military court is illegal. Besigye is accused by the Ugandan government of treason, terrorism, illegal weapons possession and rape. Twenty-two of supporters are also facing treason charges for allegedly belonging to a shadowy rebel group, the Peoples Redemption Army. Besigye, who is leader of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change, is a candidate in Uganda's February 23rd presidential election.

Peter Mwesige is executive editor of the Uganda Daily Monitor. He explains what the court ruling means for Besigye. “It means that Dr. Besigye and the 22 people who he is jointly with don’t have to contend with the charges of terrorism in the military court. They only have to face the charges of treason in the High Court.”

Mwesige says the High Court felt that it was unconstitutional to subject Besigye and his co-defendants to trials in two separate courts based on the same charges. Mwesige quotes the court as saying this would be double jeopardy. “The government has already issued a notice that they are going to appeal. So the chances are they’ll be filing an appeal in the Supreme Court very soon.”

As to whether the court’s ruling might have an effect on Uganda’s current presidential campaign, Mwesige says, “I think the key issue really for Besigye is that it has given him relief and some king of peace of mind that he doesn’t have to continue worrying about this trial. Remember, his main fear was that the Court Martial, which is in a sense very closely linked to the president, could very easily have found him guilty.”

Mwesige says the lawyers for Besigye’s co-defendants are likely to ask the court this Friday to dismiss their charges.