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Uganda Charges Opposition Figure with Inciting Violence Like in Kenya

Kenya’s post-election crisis may be having an effect on politics in the country’s western neighbor, Uganda. On Monday, the Ugandan authorities arrested and charged opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) member Betty Kamya with sedition, promoting sectarianism, inciting violence, and promoting war on the person of President Yoweri Museveni. The charges stemmed from an opinion article she wrote in the local newspaper The Monitor entitled “Where is Museveni’s Heart.” FDC President Kizza Besigye says the arrest of Ms. Kamya was intended to silence the opposition.

Ruhakana Rugunda is Uganda’s minister of internal affairs. He told VOA that Ms. Kamya's comments went beyond freedom of speech.

“People can write what they want to write so long as it is consistent with the law. Telling the people of Uganda to rise the way the people of Kenya have risen is not the best message a political leader should give to the population because that is in effect inciting the population to rise along tribal lines because you see that the tribal and the political clashes in Kenya have left more than 1,000 Kenyans dead. And the political leaders if they were responsible enough they would have been able to have stopped that and prevented it,” Rugunda said.

Rugunda agreed with prosecutors who said Ms. Kamya’s article intended to excite disaffection against President Museveni.

“She did say that President Museveni is not a Ugandan by birth and this would be unconstitutional for a president of Uganda to be president when he is not a Ugandan by birth. So in effect she was saying that Museveni is president of Uganda unconstitutionally,” Rugunda said.

He said all Ugandans are concerned about events in neighboring Kenya but that the government is not nervous about the possible impact on Ugandan politics.

“The government of Uganda is not nervous at all. The government of Uganda believes in the rule of law, and it is the rule of law that is at work in our country. Having said that, yes, we are concerned about our brothers and sisters in Kenya. We do think that it’s unfortunate that such a situation and upheaval should have arisen after election. And we should do everything possible in Africa and beyond to prevent issues and matters of that nature coming up. And the medicine for Uganda is seen on the streets, promotion of good governance,” he said.

Rugunda said the government of President Museveni has performed well in promoting democracy as evident by its re-election on many occasions.

Ms. Kamya has denied all four charges against her. She was released Monday on bail.

Forum for Democratic Change President Kizza Besigye said the arrest of Ms. Kamya was intended to silence the opposition.

“This is consistent with the government’s attempt to muzzle criticism. That is why it made criticism a criminal offense. In modern and democratic countries it’s not heard of that people who make publication are charged with criminal offense. If somebody is offended and feels that there was defamation or something, it is perfect to go to court and seek compensation against whoever has made such publication. But in Uganda, the criminal law has been used to deal with critical voices against the government. And it is not just in terms of publication, but as you know most leaders of the opposition today are all prisoners, including myself,” Besigye said.

Besigye said Ms. Kamya was simply stating the same things that he Besigye had said repeatedly, which is the same policies that led to the post-election violence in neighboring Kenya are also happening in Uganda. But he said the international community has been giving a deaf ear to what he called a vicious dictatorship in Uganda until there’s a crisis such as the one in Kenya.