Mon, Dec 19, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Ugandan opposition leader goes on trial today for treason

AP , KAMPALA, UGANDA

Uganda's military tribunal has ordered the main opposition leader to appear for trial today, although his lawyers have protested that prison officials have refused confidential access and insisted on reading all documents.

Opposition leader Kizza Besigye's wife and lawyer said yesterday that confidential access to his lawyers has been prevented during preparation for his trial.

Two senior prison officers insist on sitting within hearing distance when lawyers meet Besigye at the Luzira Maximum Security Prison to plot defense strategy, his wife, Winnie Byanyima, said.

Besigye, the first credible challenger to President Yoweri Museveni's 19-year rule, has denied treason and rape charges at a civilian court as well as charges of terrorism and illegal possession of firearms at a military tribunal. Conviction on terrorism or treason carry the death penalty.

Besigye is unable to craft a defense strategy since "he cannot have a confidential discussion with his lawyers about how he should plead and about evidence that they have before them," Byanyima said. "These are capital cases -- punishable by death, death by hanging! But yet he cannot have the benefit of a full defense."

Assistant Commissioner for Prisons Wycliffe Kururagyire said the claims were not true.

Besigye, who is charged at the military tribunal with terrorism and illegal possession, will also appear at the High Court today for trial on treason and rape. He has denied the charges, defense lawyer Yusuf Nsibambi said.

Museveni is under pressure from within his party and Western donors to release Besigye.

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