KAMPALA, Uganda, Apr 28 – Dutch and Irish diplomats breached rules when they visited Ugandan opposition leaders Kizza Besigye and Norbert Mao in prison last week, says the Ugandan government. The Dutch government insists the visit was made upon an invitation from the Ugandan Prisons Service.
Johnson Byabashaija, head of prisons, claims the diplomats invited themselves to the Nakasongola prison, some 100 kilometers from the capital Kampala, and gained access to the detained opposition leaders without official authorisation or diplomatic clearance.
Talking to RNW, Information Minister Kabakumba Matsiko added the diplomats should have known better. “It’s internationally known that if you travel beyond 50 kilometers from the capital, you need to seek clearance. This visit gives the wrong impression and the Ugandan government will make its unhappiness known through diplomatic channels.”
But on Wednesday afternoon, the embassies involved had not yet received an official reaction from the Ugandan government. The discontent about the diplomats’ visit was only expressed through the media, a spokesperson for the Dutch government said.
During their three-hour visit, the diplomatic delegation could speak freely with Mr Besigye and Mr Mao, the spokesperson confirmed. The opposition leaders, who were being kept under ‘acceptable circumstances’, made use of the opportunity to express their objections against the current government’s policy.
Besigye has been charged with participating in an unlawful assembly and remanded to prison. He is held with Nobert Mao, another former presidential contender and leader of the Democratic Party (DP), charged with inciting violence and assaulting a police officer.
Mr Besigye doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about, he said upon a previous arrest. “If I’m not committing an offence, don’t violate my rights and let me go about my business. Uganda just went through an election. The regime claims it won 70% of the votes. If that’s the case, why are they so worried about a minority that may not be happy with them? If you ask me, they fear a demonstration because it means they have lost the legitimacy to govern. They’re resorting to using force and violating people’s rights.”
Information Minister Kabakumba Matsiko denies the government is being heavy-handed with the demonstrators. “We’re acting in the interest of our people and the stability of the country. Demonstrators are looting and the government can’t allow this to continue. Mr Besigye is not above the law. If he commits a crime, he has to face the consequences. There’s nothing extraordinary about his arrest.”
The European Union delegation has expressed concerns about the respect for the right to peaceful demonstration. ‘Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are two fundamental pillars of any democratic society. They are provided for under the constitution of Uganda and by international and domestic law. The EU delegation encourages all parties in Uganda to deal with political conflicts though peaceful means’, an official statement read.
Mr Besigye started his twice-weekly walks to work in protest against the soaring food and fuel prices. Yet Ms Kabakumba Matsiko said the demonstrations have nothing to do with the prices of commodities going up. “It’s the planting season. Food prices go up every year around this time. Destabilising peace in Uganda isn’t going to do anything about it.”