UN rights chief criticizes Uganda government for protest response

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[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] urged Uganda’s government Sunday to stop using what she called excessive force against protesters, including opposition leader Kizza Beisgye [JURIST news archive]. Pillay criticized [Reuters report] the government’s treatment of Bezigye during his arrest last Thursday, during which video shows government forces breaking into his SUV [BBC report], shooting pepper spray directly into his face and forcing him into the back of a pickup truck. Reports indicate Bezigye has left the country for medical treatment due to the arrest and has not fully regained sight in his left eye. Demonstrations intensified following Besigye’s arrest, leading to eight deaths and more than 90 injuries. Pillay called on both sides to refrain from using violence. Besigye said Sunday that he will continue to organize [Capital News report] the “Walk to Work” protests [VOA report]—so called because protesters refuse to drive due to high fuel prices—despite the violence. More protests are expected Monday.

Government officials had arrested Besigye three times [JURIST report] in April prior to Thursday’s arrest. Besigye is the leader of the Uganda’s most prominent opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change [official website]. He lost to incumbent President Yoweri Museveni [BBC profile] in elections held this past February. The elections were criticized by the opposition as fraudulent [Guardian report]. Besigye also ran for president [BBC report] in 2002 and 2006, and, prior to that, he was Museveni’s personal doctor. In October 2010, Uganda’s Constitutional Court unanimously dismissed treason charges [JURIST report] against Besigye and 10 co-defendants, ruling that there was insufficient evidence and that the state had violated the defendants’ rights. Besigye had been charged [JURIST report] with plotting to forcefully overthrow the Ugandan government between 2001 and 2004 but had always maintained his innocence, calling the charges against him politically motivated.

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