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Main opposition leader acquitted of rape charge

[Uganda] Opposition leader, Kiiza Besigye, and his wife Winnie Byanyima at a campaign rally.
Opposition leader, Kiiza Besigye, and his wife Winnie Byanyima at a campaign rally. (Vincent Mayanja/IRIN)

Uganda’s main opposition leader, Kiiza Besigye, who came second in February’s presidential polls, was acquitted of a rape charge on Tuesday after the court ruled that the prosecution had failed to prove its case.

"I hearby acquit the accused," said high court Judge John Bosco. "The evidence is inadequate, impotent, scandalous, monstrous against a man who brought himself up to compete for the highest position in this country."

Besigye lost to incumbent President Yoweri Museveni in the presidential race.

The judge ruled that the complainant, Joanita Kyakuwa, told lies in court.

Besigye now faces another trial on treason charges, along with 22 co-defendants, which is set to resume on 15 March. He has denied all charges, saying they were politically motivated attempts by his former political ally to either prevent him from running or hinder his ability to campaign in the 23 February elections.

"I believe it was intended to compromise my ability to campaign. My voters were constantly reminded that I was a suspected rapist and with a prospect of conviction of a capital offence," Besigye, leader of the Forum for Democratic Change party, told reporters outside the courthouse in Kampala, the capital.

Museveni won re-election with 59 percent of the vote in Uganda's first multiparty polls since 1980, extending his 20-year hold on power for another five years. Besigye took 37 percent of the vote.

Besigye's prosecution has raised serious concerns about the state of democracy in Uganda and tarnished the once-sterling credentials of Museveni, who came to power in a 1986 coup.

The treason charges against Besigye relate to allegations that he and the other accused colluded with rebel groups to foment a coup after elections in 2001, in which Besigye lost to Museveni.

Besigye fled the country shortly after the accusations surfaced and returned to Uganda only in October last year, vowing to fight Museveni's "dictatorship". He was arrested in mid-November.

The trial, as well as Museveni's repeal last year of term limits that would have barred him from seeking re-election, have alarmed donors, some of whom have suspended millions of dollars in direct aid to the government.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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