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Uganda Explains Arrest of Former Intelligence Chief

FILE - In this Dec. 23, 2014 file photo, General David Sejusa returns to the capital Kampala, Uganda. A military general who opposes Uganda's longtime president was arrested ahead of presidential elections next month, his lawyer said Jan. 31, 2016.

The government of Uganda says the country’s former intelligence chief, General David Sejusa, who has called President Yoweri Museveni a dictator, was arrested Sunday in Kampala by the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) following a 2½-hour search of his home by the military.

This comes as the country prepares for presidential elections on February 18. President Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, is seeking re-election.

Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said Sejusa was arrested because he has been actively involved in partisan political activities.

“First of all as you know, General Sejusa ran out of Uganda. Then he was given clemency on his return," Opondo said.

'Learned from his lesson'

"Nevertheless, it seems he has not learned from his lesson, and he has been actively engaged in supporting partisan politics contrary to established laws and the constitution of Uganda which specifically bars serving military officers and men from siding with candidates in elections,” he said

Opondo says Sejusa has been making public statements threatening to mobilize citizens not to participate in the election because, in his view, the electoral process would be a sham.

“Clearly, that should not be encouraged. Anywhere in the world the military is supposed to be subordinate to civilian authorities. It is unacceptable for serving military officer to threaten the government, to threaten the democratic process and say we should not go for election and take over power by ourselves,” Opondo said.

“The army leadership, the CDF, chief of defense forces called him and advised him; he did not heed. He wrote him a letter cautioning him, he did not desist from his activities,” he said.

Sejusa’s attorney, Ladislaus Rwakafuzi, told VOA General Sejusa’s arrest was illegal since the army had no arrest warrant and refused to explain the circumstances that led to the arrest.

Link to election

The lawyer also said Sejusa’s arrest could be strongly linked to the upcoming election since the general has been advising opposition leaders on ways to prevent rigging of the elections.

Opondo denies General Sejusa was arrested because he was advising main opposition leader Kizza Besigye on electoral strategies.

“That’s absolutely not correct because what advice was he giving. But even assuming he was giving advice, is that advice lawful? The bottom line is the laws of Uganda do not permit a serving military officer or man to participate in supporting sides in a political contest. Military officers, police officers are specifically barred from being members of political parties, being officials in political parties, speaking publicly for candidates in an election,” Opondo said.

Asked whether Uganda is a democracy or dictatorship, Opondo said Sejusa cannot say what he believes if he is a serving military officer, and that is embedded in the constitution.

“A democracy does not mean you should say anything. There are parameters within which freedom is enjoyed in a democracy. I am very, very sure that a serving military officer in the U.S. cannot threaten President [Barack] Obama, cannot threaten Congress, cannot threaten the due process of the law or of the election and gets away with it,” he said.

Opondo said he rejected suggestions that President Museveni is becoming increasingly nervous that he could lose the February 18 election.

“The critics can say whatever they want to say; what is critical is that the law of Uganda must prevail," he said.

"It is unacceptable for a military officer, it is unacceptable for a civil servant to openly take sides in the electoral contest among political parties, among candidates. I don’t think the president is fearful that he is going to lose this election,” Opondo added.