He is usually strong, even when he has been arrested and charged before court. But yesterday was a completely different day for Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) president Kizza Besigye, as he shuffled into Kasangati Court, Wakiso District.
Battered, unable to see and only able to walk with help of friends, Dr Besigye cut a disturbing picture as he was charged with purported assault and unlawful assembly. His arm still in a cast following the gunshot injuries he sustained two weeks ago, the opposition politician who had tried to drive to work, held a thick wad of cotton wool over his eyes; his ears were stuffed with even more cotton.
Some well-wishers broke down in tears. The magistrate would later release him on a court bond of Shs5 million not cash. Six of the people with whom he was arrested after a three-hour standoff with security personnel at Mulago were remanded until May 2.
Dr Besigye’s lawyer, Mr David Mpanga, told court that his client was “unwell and cannot take plea today” after a very violent arrest “characterised by spraying him with tear gas and other obnoxious spray”.
Further proof of the retired colonel’s poor health was his failure to address the gathered press as he usually does. He hobbled to a waiting black Mercedes Benz and was driven off. His sister, Dr Olive Kobusinye, said the extent of damage to Dr Besigye’s sight could only be ascertained by an eye specialist. “As of now he cannot see. He has difficulty in breathing and his skin is burning due to the pepper he was sprayed with,” she said.
Nabweru Chief Magistrate Justine Atukwasa, who last week refused to entertain Dr Besigye’s bail application saying she was busy, and who had released him on stiff bail terms at Nakasongola Court 24 hour hours earlier, was again in charge. “It is our submission your worship that A1 (Besigye) cannot see, cannot talk … so he has not given me any instructions and our prayer is that because of his health condition, this court exercises its discretion under section 65 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act and release him on court bond without sureties to ensure his attendance,” Mr Mpanga argued.
The State represented by five lawyers protested that there was no medical evidence to prove the medical condition of Dr Besigye, but the magistrate overruled them. “I have listened to the submissions of defence counsel and looked at A1 and observed that he does not seem to be in good health. I have concluded he is not in good condition,” Magistrate Atukwasa said. “A1 will execute a bond of Shs5 million not cash until May 2 when he will come back to this court to take his plea. The rest of the accused will be remanded until May 2.”
Dr Besigye’s sureties included MPs Abdu Katuntu, Sam Njuba and Bukhooli North MP-elect Wafula Oguttu.
Mr Mpanga unsuccessfully pleaded for the other suspects. “Counsel, we have always remanded accused persons and allowed them to take plea at the appointed date. I have already signed my ruling and taken leave of the matter. So I can’t revisit it,” the magistrate said, causing murmurs of disapproval.
Mr Mpanga said the decision was unprecedented as the accused were remanded without charges being read to them. “What we are seeing is that the State is using a legal process to find a way of using court to get someone remanded.”
He said he would address the matter later. Those remanded include Dr Besigye’s driver Fred Kato, Sam Mugumya, FDC youth leader Francis Mwijukye, Martin Kyomuhendo and Geoffrey Kalanzi. Three other colleagues, Robert Kisekka, one Umar and Harold Kaija, were not brought to court though they were badly injured during the arrests.
There was drama as the detainees chanted “we shall some time in future be free” as they prepared to board a police van to Luzira prison. Some plain-clothed operatives who were in the van sneaked away when the detainees vowed not to board if the car was not manned by Prisons warders because “those thugs came beating us.”