Uganda: ‘battered’ MP Bobi Wine may need treatment abroad, say allies

Weapons charges dropped but singer turned opposition MP immediately re-arrested

A Ugandan pop star turned opposition politician has been so badly beaten in custody that he may need treatment overseas, his friends and supporters have said.

Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, known to fans as Bobi Wine, was arrested last week during campaigning for a byelection in the north-western town of Arua, amid signs of a broad crackdown on dissent in the country, which has been ruled by Yoweri Museveni since 1986.

On Thursday, Kyagulanyi was charged with treason in a civilian court minutes after a military court dropped weapons charges against him.

Asuman Basalirwa, a political ally and member of Kyagulanyis legal team, said: His face looks better compared to when we saw him last week, but he still cant walk on his own and complains of pain in various body parts.

The need for medical attention is urgent. There are serious complications. He may have to go abroad if his health allows it.

Kyagulanyi limped during his appearance in military court and appeared to cry as he rubbed his eyes, while a colleague wrapped the national flag over his shoulders. He sat in the dock in the magistrates court his lawyers said he was unable to stand on his own.

Ugandan
Ugandan military police patrol in the Kisekka Market area of Kampala on Thursday. Photograph: Ronald Kabuubi/AP

Authorities also moved against Kiffa Kizza-Besigye, another prominent opposition leader, on Thursday, arresting him at his home. Police were deployed at the homes and offices of other opposition activists and politicians in the capital, Kampala, in an apparent attempt to ward off protests.

Kyagulanyi was detained and his driver shot dead following clashes in Arua, during which Musevenis motorcade was pelted with stones. Two days of violently suppressed anti-government demonstrations followed.

In recent days, Ugandas government has faced substantial international pressure to free Kyagulanyi, with countries including the UK and the US expressing concern about his alleged beating.

More than 80 artists, activists and politicians signed a statement this week condemning the arrest, imprisonment and vicious, life-threatening physical attack by Ugandan government forces on Kyagulanyi and calling on the Ugandan government to ensure appropriate medical treatment.

Signatories included Chris Martin, Chrissie Hynde, Brian Eno and Damon Albarn as well as African musicians such as Femi Kuti.

Ugandan
Ugandan security forces detain a protester in Kampala on Monday. Photograph: Ronald Kabuubi/AP

Basalirwa said Kyagulanyi, who campaigns under the slogan people power, had recovered a little but remained very unwell. If he is not well he cant engage in political activities. He is very strong and he appeals for all his supporters to remain strong. But his health has to be the priority. The body is battered but the spirit remains strong, he said.

Four other opposition lawmakers arrested with Kyagulanyi face treason charges.

The Ugandan government described the assault accusation as rubbish and Museveni has dismissed reports of injuries as fake news. In a statement late on Wednesday, he accused unprincipled politicians of luring young people into rioting.

Rights groups say opposition politicians, journalists and civil society organisations face systematic harassment in Uganda.

Yoweri
Yoweri Museveni in Addis Ababa in January. Photograph: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Museveni, a key US security ally, has been elected five times. The most recent vote, in 2016, was marred by allegations of fraud. The 74-year-old president is able to seek re-election in 2021 because parliament passed legislation last year removing a clause in the constitution that had prevented anyone over 75 from holding the presidency.

Kyagulanyi, who was elected to parliament last year, has emerged as a powerful voice with his calls for young people to stand up and take over from a failed leadership. On his Twitter feed, Kyagulanyi says he is one ghetto child who has something to say through music.

However, the singer is controversial and has faced repeated accusations of homophobia.

Kyagulanyi has compared himself to Frances Emmanuel Macron and made no secret of his presidential ambitions. Many songs deal with social and political issues, and call for ordinary young people to act to improve their lives and the country.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

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