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Uganda court dismisses treason case against opposition leader

Uganda's Constitutional Court [official website] on Tuesday unanimously dismissed treason charges against opposition leader Kizza Besigye [JURIST news archive] 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. Prosecutors alleged that Besigye was affiliated with the People's Redemption Army (PRA) [NSAG backgrounder], which the Ugandan government says operates from eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Tuesday's ruling will allow Besigye to continue with his candidacy [WSJ report] in the February 2011 presidential elections, in which he is the Inter-Party Cooperation coalition party's candidate. Besigye also ran for president [BBC report] in 2002 and 2006, and, prior to that, he was personal doctor to incumbent President Yoweri Museveni [official profile].

Besigye's trial resumed in June 2007 after a one-year delay [JURIST report]. In April 2007, Uganda's chief prosecutor Simon Byabakama Mugenyi told the court that files detailing the intelligence gathering efforts [JURIST report] against Besigye had been "misplaced." The existence of the PRA is disputed, and the Ugandan government has been accused of fabricating the group's existence to support its crackdown on political opponents. In March 2007, Ugandan judges went on strike [JURIST report] to protest an incident in which government security agents surrounded a courthouse, rearrested six opposition supporters who had been charged with treason but granted bail, and beat a defendant's lawyer unconscious. The incident also prompted lawyers to strike [JURIST report], and Museveni promised to implement more transparent procedures for making arrests [JURIST report].

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