FDC party president Dr Kizza Besigye yesterday promised to fight attempts to try him behind closed-doors after security agents stopped journalists and the public from entering Nabweru Court purportedly on the instructions of the magistrate.
Chief Magistrate Justine Atukwasa presided over the brief proceedings as scores of armed security personnel in police uniforms and plain clothes milled around the premises.
She adjourned the hearings to July 8, ostensibly to allow Dr Besigye’s lawyer Earnest Kalibbala study prosecution documents and prepare for cross-examination and defence.
Ms Atukwasa is the same magistrate who controversially presided over other protest-related cases preferred against Dr Besigye in three separate jurisdictions, setting stiff bail conditions when she released him from detention in Nakasongola.
Dr Besigye yesterday said the adjournment was a direct consequence of the prosecution’s failure to provide to his lawyers copies of assorted documents and witness statements they intend to rely on during trial.
“We shall not allow trial in closed-door court when journalists and members of the public are blocked from knowing the proceedings. We shall challenge this illegality in court because the law is very clear,” said Dr Besigye shortly after court.
Charged jointly with supporters Francis Mwijukye, Aaron Kaija and Feziren Nuwagaba; Dr Besigye is facing allegations of holding illegal assembly and inciting violence – arising out of his participation in the walk-to-work protests against the rising cost of living. The group denies the charges.
There was a scuffle as Dr Besigye’s co-accused unsuccessfully tried to force open the court gate, prompting Kawempe Police Station commander Moses Ochieng to intervene on two occasions as his men clashed with the co-accused and journalists whose pleas to be let in had been ignored by Ms Atukwase.
Security deployed heavily from Wandegeya along the entire route to Nabweru Court with armed police in riot gear backed by water cannon trucks stationed at various places. Roadblocks were thrown up at Mulago Roundabout, Northern By-pass junction, at Bwaise, Kazo junction, and others on the way to Nabweru.
Police spokeswoman Judith Nabakooba yesterday said they deployed for crowd control.
Judiciary spokesperson Elias Kisawuzi refused to be drawn into the matter. “I am not aware of any order to block the media and public from accessing court,” he said, adding that although he had no knowledge of the incident, “proceedings are supposed to be public unless there is an order”.
Business was paralysed in Nabweru and surrounding areas when security personnel prevented Dr Besigye, his supporters and journalists from walking from the court premises and getting onto the Nabweru-Nansana Road.
Another confrontation ensued before Dr Besigye accompanied by his supporters took refuge at the nearby Yowana Maria Mzee Catholic Church. They sat in the church compound from 10.30am until 3.30pm under the surveillance of the police who kept dispersing curious bystanders. He later got into his car and drove away.
“The court had requested the police to take control of crowds which at times create noise. The deployment along the road is to maintain law and order,” she said.