Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Judges in Uganda began a week-long strike on Monday, protesting against the arrest of six suspects, after they had been granted bail, in the High Court premises last week.
The six suspects, supporters of the opposition leader Kizza Besigye, are alleged to be members of the Peoples Redemption Army and are charged with treason for allegedly plotting a coup. Twelve men have been detained in connection to these charges since November 2005.
Scores of armed police were deployed outside the High Court while the bail application was being heard last week, and the suspects were detained by armed military police. A defence lawyer was reportedly assaulted by prison guards.
Defending the arrests, President Yoweri Museveni said that the suspects had been re-arrested on fresh murder charges and that the arrests did not amount to disobeying the court. He also said that granting bail to those charged with “treason and terrorism” amounts to sending them beyond the reach of law.
Last week’s arrests seriously undermines the rule of law in Uganda, said the International Commission of Jurists, and called on the Ugandan government to stop “intimidating” lawyers and judges taking part in the trial.
A similar incident occurred in 2005, with military personnel detaining men granted bail in the same case.
President Museveni said that he had met with the Chief Justice to discuss the matter and that a “legal and transparent” method of re-arresting suspects will be formulated.
Justice James Ogoola, a senior judge told the BBC that the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary should be brought “back to form” in the country.
Opposition groups who demonstrated on Monday to show support to the judges were dispersed by police using tear gas. Ugandan newspaper, The Monitor reported that a baby had died during the tear-gassing.
The state-owned newspaper New Vision reported that undertrials set for court appearances were sent back to prisons, without any hearings taking place, at various courts in Kampala, Lira, Erute, Mbale and Mityana.