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I Am Still a Prisoner, Says Ugandan Opposition Leader

In Ugandan, Kizza Besigye of the main opposition Forum for Democratic Change says he is still a prisoner in his own country. He says even though Uganda claims to have a multi-party democracy, the political climate in the country continues to be hostile towards opposition politicians.

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, which means he cannot travel unless the courts grant him the permission to do so.

Besigye, who is scheduled to address a conference of Ugandans in North America on August thirty-first in California, told VOA he is frustrated by the court’s decision to review his passport application on August 30th.

“This has been a rather frustrating exercise because we lodged the application and waited to get a hearing date to get first of all a judge appointed who can tend to the application, and the judge then sets a date for the hearing. And only this afternoon our lawyers were informed that the hearing date will be on the 30th of this month, the very day that I am supposed to travel in order to be able to attend the meeting in San Francisco on the 31st,” he said.

Besigye said he was not too optimistic about the prospects of getting an expedited hearing for his passport application.

“Well, I’m afraid the recourse isn’t much. My lawyers are going to make more effort to try and meet with the judge and to try and impress upon her the urgency of this matter. Unless it is changed, that decision would mean that I simply will not be able to attend the meeting in San Francisco,” Besigye said.

He said the problem with his passport dates back to the treason charges brought against him by the government in 2005.

“As you may know, I am a prisoner still under the charges of treason which were leveled against me in mid-2005, and was only released on bail at the beginning in 2006, and one of the conditions for my bail was that my passport be deposited in the court until the treason case has been finally disposed of. And so for as long as it goes on my passport remains deposited in court. So any time I have to travel I have to apply to the court to vary the conditions of my bail and allow me the use of the passport for the specific purpose of traveling to a particular place and returning the passport on a particular date as soon as I come,” he said.

On the political front, Besigye said even though Uganda claims to have multi-party democracy, the political climate in the country continues to be hostile towards opposition politicians.

“Of course as you know we held the first multi-party democratic elections only last year. But I must say that the government has never accepted that a multi-party dispensation is necessary for this country. And so the government of Uganda does everything within its power to frustrate the functioning of political parties. Our meetings are disrupted because the police have not allowed them. The media is increasingly controlled to our exclusion. Recently I appeared on Uganda Television Service, which is a public broadcaster, and the person who hosted me was promptly sacked from his job and the program stopped altogether. So the environment in which we operate continues to be quite tough for the opposition political parties,” Besigye said.