Uganda elections 2006- High Court Releases Besigye from Luzira: What does this mean for FDC and Uganda?

Uganda elections 2006- High Court Releases Besigye from Luzira: What does this mean for FDC and Uganda?

Besigye walks out of Court premises; tear gas and demonstrations rock the city.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: January 2, 2005

On the afternoon of Monday January 2, 2006, the High Court in Kampala ruled that Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) leader, Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye was free to go and be with his family and also continue his political journey.

Justice John Bosco Katutsi ruled that the prison authorities had no right to hold Col. Dr. Kizza Besigye without any legal instruments after the High Court granted the FDC leader interim bail.

The morning prior to the ruling, FDC's special presidential envoy, Beti Olive Kamya had informed the Press during the party's weekly press conference that Besigye might address the rally at Wakiso district headquarters at 4:00 pm.

Kamya said that whatever arguments the prison authorities and the General Court Martial might have presented to hold Besigye in Luzira, the question and fact before court was lack of legal instruments to hold him.

She said that the argument that Besigye is likely to run out of the country if let out of prison were lacking because the FDC president flew himself back to Uganda to face the charges in spite of the threatening letter to cabinet that he would face the charges.

The Genesis of the Monday ruling:
In November, the High Court granted Besigye, who is charged three counts of treason, concealment of treason and rap, interim bail. Following the ruling, it was expected that Besigye would be free to continue with his political program, which he has begun before being arrested at Busega near Kampala on his way from western Uganda where he was addressing rallies.

However, security operatives in black t-shirts belonging to the urban anti-terrorism squad besieged the High Court and led to the re-arrest of Besigye who was taken back to Luzira prison because accordingly he had other charges in the Court Martial.

At the General Court Martial, Besigye was facing charges of terrorism and illegal possession of illegal arms and was remanded to Luzira Maximum security prison up to November 25. According to his Lawyers, Besigye was illegally being detained since the High Court, which is higher than the Court Martial had granted him bail and the court was incompetent to try Besigye, who is now a civilian.

Besigye's legal team and members of his party raised concern over their client and leader respectively being charged in two courts on related charges that were based on the same evidence.

This culminated into the High Court ruling stopping the proceedings of the army court until the Constitutional Court had ruled on whether the army court could try Besigye and his co-accused. The proceedings were stayed until the Constitutional Court makes a ruling in whether the Army Court has the mandate to try civilians and whether Besigye can be charged in two courts on related charges.

Besigye's message shortly and after release:
In the New Year's message read for him by FDC's Presidential envoy, Beti Olive Kamya, Besigye reaffirmed his resolve 'to go all the way, to use whatever he has and whatever it takes, to fight for unconditional freedom, constitutionalism and rule of law.

He said that one can only enjoy his rights as long as "the insatiable ambition of President Museveni to cling to power is not threatened'.

Shortly after Justice Katutsi made the ruling, Besigye who was in company of his wife, Winnie Byanyima said that he would continue his struggle. "We shall use all way possible to fight the dictatorship," he told the journalists shortly before entering the Court Registrar's office to sign some papers.

At that time, he was not sure whether he would be allowed to leave court a free man and continue his political work. "I do not know my next fate, but according to the program, we are going to sit and draw new plans for the campaigns," he said.

Meanwhile, the prisons officials started leaving one by one until they left the police alone at the Court and the Military Police who had parked at the Central Police station raising hope that unless the military 'abducts' Besigye, he would be free to walk from court to wherever he wanted to go.

Besigye walks out of Court premises; tear gas and demonstrations rock the city:
The street fights between FDC/Besigye and anti riot police were going on following the news of the release. Police lost control of the situation as Besigye traveling in an open roof Pajero left the court showing the V-sign.

Besigye told his supporters who escorted him to his home that the Court decision showed the whole world that government was acting in disrespect of the laws in the country. "This is the government that we should vote out. "Egenda egenda (this government is going, it is going," he said as he waved to the supporters.

What does governments make of Besigye release?
The Head of the government's Media Center, Robert Kabushenga said that the release of Besigye by the court decision shows that government respects the judiciary. Both government and the opposition including Dr. Besigye say they want the law to take its course.

Kabushenga said during a radio talk show on Kfm-Andrew Mwenda Live that the opposition especially the FDC will no longer have an excuse that their candidate did not campaign and that that is why they did not win the elections.

Political temperature:
The political temperature is expected to gain more vigor with Besigye on the campaign trail. Supporters especially in the Eastern part of the country were demanding that Besigye addresses them first immediately he comes from prison. Although, the officials of the FDC say that there continued to get the crowds wherever they have campaigned, the absence of Besigye was constraining their efforts.

According to the FDC Chairman, Sulaiman Kiggundu, the detention of Besigye had both negative and positive consequences on their campaigns and the party's support in the country.

"Some people supported him and the FDC because they realized that the government was bad and wanted change while others had a problem supporting a person they could not see or one they are not sure will come out of prison," Kiggundu said during the party's press conference on Monday.

The release of Besigye from prison may have reinforced the opposition against the incumbent, but it is likely to send the other candidates to oblivion and probably cause them to abandon the race. This is because Besigye, who has been in prison continued to get more coverage than even the incumbent who is on a countrywide campaign tour.

Fears of insecurity:
Some people Ultimate Media talked to say that they fear there is going to be a lot of insecurity as the competition for the top position in the country especially between Dr. Besigye and the incumbent Mr. Museveni becomes stiff.

Other people are worried about the general outcome of the elections more than the cases that Besigye is grappling with the courts of law. Some people especially the older generation are concerned that whoever wins between president Yoweri Museveni and Besigye, there is likely to be bloodshed because the two may not reconcile.

Those who believe so much in the pastors also fear that Besigye may end up being killed. This follows the prophecy by renowned Miracle Center Cathedral born again church pastor Robert Kayanja that one of the Presidential candidates is going to die, one is going to pull out of the race and that the winner will win with 61.8 percent.

It may be recalled that the same Kayanja prophesied that there would be an earth quake in the East African Rift Valley and it happened and that there would be a big change in the Kenyan government and President Kibaki fired his entire cabinet.

However, those in opposition say that Pastor Kayanja who is a confidant of President Yoweri Museveni could be using the prophecy to show that Mr. Museveni is already a winner.

Has Besigye and FDC got any advantage in the campaigns?
Although their leader was in jail, the FDC leaders have been traversing the country looking for the votes for the party and the presidential candidate. At every rally, they would reserve a seat for Besigye's portrait to symbolize his presence.

However, this was not enough because the person of Besigye moves many people more than even the party can do. With over a month and a half and the fact that FDC which has been campaigning in different areas at the same time, Besigye has had his work eased.

The problem is that all supporters would want him to meet them personally yet the time is not his best ally. He has to be appearing in Court over the charges he is facing as well.

On the whole the arrest, detention and release of Besigye, according to many Ugandans is a blessing for the FDC leader and his party. Some people including those from President Museveni's camp have even said that the arrest of Besigye made him more popular and that the president had become Besigye's chief campaign manager.

The campaigns have just started and Ugandans are anxiously waiting for not only the outcome of the elections but also the aftermath of the polls as the religious leaders of all faith continue to pray for peace.

By Gideon Munaabi
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First published: January 2, 2005
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Gideon Munaabi is a journalist and public relations practitioner with Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd. He has been and continues writing widely for different publication locally and internationally. He is a founding member of Ultimate Media Consult (U) Ltd and is currently the chairman of the organisation.