Fears For Husband’s Safety

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His supporters contend the government of Gen. Yoweri K. Museveni fears the challenger will defeat the president in elections slated for March. Byanyima, who is currently in New York City, also called upon the Bush Administration to “walk the talk,� a reference to the Bush’s pledge that his second term would focus on democracy. “They say that their agenda is spreading democracy worldwide. They cannot be selective. They cannot jump Uganda and go to liberate Iraq--or go to liberate Afghanistan,� Byanyima said.

Winnie Byanyima, the wife of jailed Uganda leading presidential challenger Dr. Kizza Besigye fears her husband could be poisoned by authorities and disclosed that he won’t eat prison food. “His family wants to bring him food three times a day because we don’t trust the prison food,� Byanyima, a former Uganda member of parliament, said in an interview with The Black Star News. “The court has denied him this so he has not eaten for two days.�

Kampala, the Uganda capital, erupted as pro-democracy activists took to the streets following the arrest of Besigye. His supporters contend the government of Gen. Yoweri K. Museveni fears the challenger will defeat the president in elections slated for March. Byanyima, who is currently in New York City, also called upon the Bush Administration to “walk the talk,� a reference to Bush’s pledge that his second term would focus on democracy. “They say that their agenda is spreading democracy worldwide. They cannot be selective. They cannot jump Uganda and go to liberate Iraq--or go to liberate Afghanistan,� Byanyima said.

Her fears about her husband’s safety follow the deaths of some of his backers while in government detention, from beatings and torture. “In the last few years some of his supporters have died in the custody of the government,� she said, of Besigye. “In one case, a young one died—a pathologist said he died from blows to his head. He had been bludgeoned to death.�
Byanyima continued: “We are not saying he’s being tortured but we want his basic needs to be met. We demand that he see his doctor when he wants to see him and we demand that he has full access to his lawyers. Those are the immediate demands and the international community can help us to meet these minimum demands—for his safety and to ensure that he has a fair process in the courts.�

Byanyima and the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) dismissed government treason and rape charges – government alleges Besigye supports rebel forces – against Besigye. “I am angry about it and thousands of people are as angry as I am about it,� Byanyima said. “He has committed no crime whatsoever. His crime is to have challenged President Museveni who cannot accept a democratic challenge and this is his reaction to a democratic challenge—it is to criminalize it.�

U.S. officials say they are following the case “very closely� and that the National Security Council is “monitoring the situation.� The U.S. has been a big military and financial supporter of Museveni.

Separately, the Uganda government is applying pressure on independent media. Government has threatened to close the country’s leading independent daily The Monitor over a story about President Museveni’s first choice for army chief. Conrad Nkutu, the managing director of The Monitor, told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that government authorities demanded that the paper retract the story and apologize. Nkutu said that the authorities had also put pressure on the paper through informal channels to fire reporter a leading reporter Andrew Mwenda, who wrote the article last Sunday. Nkutu told CPF that the paper would not comply with the request to fire Mwenda, who has a specialty in political affairs. Mwenda already faces criminal charges for a talk show program that led to the closure of Monitor group radio station KFM for seven days last August. According to Mwenda, President Museveni first offered the job of defense forces chief to Salim Saleh, his younger brother. The government called the story, “false and an attempt to malign the president.�

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