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Jury recommends acquittal of opposition leader in rape case

Jurors in the rape trial of Ugandan opposition leader Kiiza Besigye recommended his acquittal on Wednesday, saying the prosecution had failed to prove its case in the alleged sexual assault. "After examining and relating all the evidence on record, I am very much convinced that the present accused, now in the dock, Kiiza Besigye, is innocent of the charge of rape," Juliet Kasendwa, who led the opinion of the two "assessors" monitoring the trial, told trial judge John Baptist Katutsi. Under Ugandan law, the assessors, who function like jurors, present their findings to the judge, who is free to accept or disregard them. Besigye is accused of raping a woman in 1997. Katutsi said his verdict would be given on notice through the court registry. He is also the judge in the trial of Besigye and 22 co-defendants on charges of treason. Besigye - President Yoweri Museveni's main challenger in elections on 23 February - denies all the charges against him and maintains that they are politically motivated, although he presented no defence in the rape case. His lawyers instead argued that the prosecution failed to prove that his accuser had been sexually assaulted. The assessors' recommendation came a day after Besigye, the leader of the country's largest opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), won a partial victory in his bid to quash charges against him and the 22 co-accused before a military tribunal. On Tuesday, Uganda's constitutional court ruled that the tribunal cannot try Besigye and the others on terrorism charges because the offence is triable only by the high court. However, the court held that the accused could be tried by the military court martial on weapons counts.
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