Friday, November 25, 2005

Amnesty deal for Besigye?

Jonathan over at The Head Heeb blog notes that the Ugandan government has reportedly done an about face on opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye. Besigye, as you may remember, was earlier this month arrested and charged with treason. by Yoweri Museveni's increasingly dictatorial regime. The hearing for which was marred by the intimidating appearance of military commandos.

He is also being subjected to a court martial, in addition to regular criminal proceedings against him. Critics argue military courts are more easily subjected to political pressure than the regular law courts.

Not surprisingly, Museveni defended the arrest of his chief rival. Not surprisingly, the Big Man called Besigye a terrorist, which is what one now calls any political opponent in the post-September 11 world. Museveni even had the audacity to claim that Besigye's arrest was a sign of good governance.

"One of the emphases of the new democratic order is no impunity," the strongman said.

If Museveni really believes there is no impunity is his country, perhaps he could reign in the atrocities of his army.

But maybe his 'democratic' Uganda has other emphases like no freedom of expression and a crusade against the free press.

The Ugandan independent paper The Monitor reports that the government is offering immediate freedom to Col. Besigye on condition that he applied for amnesty under the Amnesty Act.

Both Jonathan and The Monitor quite rightly notes that Besigye is almost certain to reject this offer as it would be an implicit acceptance of guilt.

A successful application for amnesty would leave Besigye vulnerable to damaging political attacks as a self-confessed rebel, comments the paper.

Jonathan adds, It looks like Museveni is having second thoughts about the arrest, possibly recognizing that the public protests that followed Dr. Besigye's seizure are more dangerous to the government than the opposition leader himself.

This is spot on. That the arrest occured on the eve of the Commonwealth meeting recalls the treason conviction of Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Nigerian dictatorship, which also occurred right before the meeting of former British colonies. Despite widespread pressure, Saro-Wiwa was hanged ten years ago this month with eight of his associates. Following the hangings, the Nigerian dictatorship faced massive international condemnation and devastating economic and political isolation. It's a fate Museveni is apparently eager to avoid. Whether he's willing to pay the price of allowing democracy and freedom of expression to exist in Uganda is another question.

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