Bobi Wine flies out of Uganda to US for medical treatment

Opposition MP allowed to leave Uganda for medical treatment for alleged torture amid fresh protests in Kampala.

Robert Kyagulanyi known as Bobi Wine Uganda
Kyagulanyi's supporters claimed he was tortured in detention and required medical treatment abroad [File: AFP]

Robert Kyagulanyi, a Ugandan pop star-turned-opposition politician, has flown out to the United States for medical treatment following alleged torture in detention, a day after he was denied boarding, his lawyer said.

Kyagulanyi, whose stage name is Bobi Wine, left Entebbe International Airport close to midnight on Friday, his lawyer in Uganda, Nicholas Opiyo, said on Twitter.

Video posted by Opiyo showed the 36-year-old singer in his trademark red beret and carrying crutches as he was taken to the departure gate on a wheelchair, saluting and thanking supporters along the way.

“I can now confirm that Hon Bobi Wine #FreeBobiWine is on a KLM flight out of Entebbe airport. I just saw him off,” Opiyo wrote.

“He was in the company of his wife Barbie and brother Daks Sentamu,” Opiyo told the AFP news agency.

Robert Amsterdam, Kyagulanyi’s international lawyer, told the Reuters news agency that the politician was headed to the eastern US city of Boston and was also expected to travel to Washington, DC, during his stay. 

Kyagulanyi, who has emerged as a formidable threat to President Yoweri Museveni, was arrested and charged with treason in August after protesters stoned the Ugandan leader’s car during a by-election campaign.

The legislator’s arrest sparked violent protests with his supporters saying he was badly beaten and tortured while in army custody, during and after his detention in the northwestern town of Arua on August 13, and required medical treatment abroad.

Kyagulanyi was released on bail on Monday without any travel restrictions. But was detained again by police on Thursday evening at the airport, outside the capital Kampala, his lawyers said.

Amsterdam, his lawyer, told Al Jazeera on Friday that Kyagulanyi said he had been tortured again while being transported from the airport to a hospital in Kampala. 

“Burn marks are showing up on his body,” Amsterdam said. “We want to get him to an independent clinic for assessment.”

Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima called the allegations “fake news”.

In a statement late on Friday, Kayima said that the director of public prosecutions instructed the police to investigate allegations of torture on Kyagulanyi, a move that required that he be examined by government medical experts.

“Before this medical examination was done, the Uganda Police Force learnt of his departure yesterday, August 30,” said Kayima in the statement. “As a result, Hon Kyagulanyi was halted from departure.”

The re-arrest of Kyagulanyi triggered fresh protests in Kampala on Friday.

Soldiers were sent to Kampala's streets to put down protests by Bobi Wine's supporters [File: AP]
Soldiers were sent to Kampala’s streets to put down protests by Bobi Wine’s supporters [File: AP]

People demonstrated in different parts of the city, burning tyres and piling rocks and other barricades in the middle of the roads. Police said the protests were limited and contained.

Kyagulanyi is a musician who entered politics after winning a parliamentary by-election last year. He has emerged as a formidable threat to Museveni’s 32-year rule, winning popular support through his music and strong criticism of the government.

In July, the Constitution was amended to remove the presidential age limit of 75 years, meaning Museveni can run again for president in 2021.

The 74-year-old Museveni, a close US security ally, has held power since 1986.

Another legislator who was blocked on Thursday from flying to India for treatment, Francis Zaake, was still being held in a hospital Friday night.

Zaake, who was arrested along with Kyagulanyi on August 13, said he was also tortured by security forces while in detention in August. 

Images posted on social media show him lying on a bed, eyes closed, with multiple bruises on his hand and other body areas.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies