Uganda’s top opposition leader, Kizza Besigye, has been granted bail after seven days in jail. Besigye, who is the head of the Forum for Democratic Change, was arrested for leading protests against increases in the cost of food and fuel.
He was freed today by the magistrate’s court in Nakasongola, 100 km outside the capital, Kampala. A condition of his release is that he not disrupt the peace for seven months. In addition, Besigye and four others may not “engage in conduct that could lead to the commission of crime and destruction of property.”
Besigye is represented by a prominent Kampala lawyer David Mpanga but was unrepresented in court today.
“We weren’t formally notified of the change of venue of the court,” said Mpanga.
He said the change was “suspicious and strange” because the venue is on the outskirts of Kampala in the jurisdiction where Besigye’s arrest last week took place.
Mpanga said he heard about the transfer of Besigye’s bail hearing from Kampala to Nakasongola from the media.
“It’s not ordinary, and I certainly haven’t seen it in my career for a bail application to be transferred from one magistrate’s court to another 100 kilometers away.”
He said Besigye was forced to be appear without legal representation because his counsel was not informed of the change of court venue.
“We are officers of the court,” he said, “We act on formality in matters relating to court.”
Mpanga said although all citizens are legally bound to conduct themselves in a manner that doesn’t breach the law and lead to the loss of life or the destruction of property, the bail conditions violate Besigye’s rights and could lead to his political persecution.
“This whole thing [Besigye’s arrest and trial] arises out of my client insisting on exercising his right to free expression as well as to peacefully demonstrate.”
Besigye has been protesting rising food and fuel prices by walking to work.
But on several occasions, Mpanga said, there have been confrontations along the roads where Besigye was not allowed walk to work…. The confrontations, he charged, “have led to police who are armed shooting people with live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas indiscriminately including in health centers and schools.”
“People have died not only where Besigye is involved but also where other people have [also] attempted to walk to work.”
Authorities say Besigye and others cannot protest without a permit.
Mpanga said it will be hard to enforce the conditions of his bail if Besigye is going to be held accountable for the deaths of people shot by gun-wielding authorities who fire on unarmed civilians.