Uganda’s music star opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi was taken by police after arriving back in the country from the United States where he received medical treatment for alleged torture.
Widely known by his nickname Bobi Wine, Kyagulanyi was seized by security officers upon arrival at the international airport in Kampala on Thursday.
A prominent critic of hardline President Yoweri Museveni, police later said in a statement he had been “peacefully escorted” home.
Climbing on top of a car and pumping his fist outside his home, Kyagulanyi pledged to fight for freedom in Uganda.
“I cannot be a refugee. No. I am Ugandan and I will stay in Uganda and I will fight for my freedom. And I will get that freedom,” he said.
“And if I don’t get that freedom in my lifetime, at least my children or their children will get the freedom that they deserve.”
Security forces sealed off roads and erected barricades around Entebbe airport leading up to his return as helicopters flew overhead. Authorities banned rallies to welcome Kyagulanyi but many ignored those orders.
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb – reporting from outside Bobi Wine’s home in Magere, 40km outside the capital – said hundreds of supporters defied the heavy security presence and gathered at his house.
“We spoke to him a short time ago, he said he’s very tired and that he’s still in pain from the injuries he sustained when he says he was tortured a few weeks ago,” said Webb.
The 36-year old musician-turned-lawmaker is widely seen as posing a significant challenge to Museveni, 74, who has ruled the East African country since 1986.
Many supporters wore red T-shirts and hats. The colour has come to be associated with his “people power” movement, and demonstrators at Ugandan embassies in London, Nairobi and elsewhere have donned the same colour during protests.
Kyagulanyi attracted a youth following through songs critical of Museveni in a country where nearly 80 percent of the population is under the age of 30.
Bobi Wine sought treatment in the US earlier this month for wounds to his back and right shoulder that he allegedly sustained while in custody.
Uganda’s government has denied accusations that he was tortured.
The pop singer, who won a national assembly seat last year, faces treason charges for his alleged role in an incident last month in which the president’s convoy was pelted with stones. He denies wrongdoing.
His message – that young Ugandans need a dynamic new head of state to tackle the myriad problems they face – has electrified citizens who say they are fed up with corruption, unemployment, and state repression of dissent.
The government denies allegations of corruption and of stifling opposition.
Museveni’s administration is facing growing criticism from its allies, particularly main donors the US and the European Union.