Popular opposition leader held as he sought to start public meetings ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Ugandan police have said three people died and 38 were wounded in protests that erupted after police arrested presidential candidate Bobi Wine in the east of the country.
Police in the capital Kampala fired tear gas and bullets to disperse Bobi Wine’s supporters, who blocked roads and burned tyres after news broke that he had been arrested in the town of Luuka and taken to a police station in the city of Jinja.
Irene Nakasiita, Uganda Red Cross spokeswoman, describes scenes of “panic”, while Evarest Kayongo, chairman of the Kampala City Traders Association, said it was “total chaos” in the city.
“The streets are empty … We have closed business because of tear gas and bullets,” he said.
Rosebell Kagumire, editor of digital platform African Feminism, said tear gas and bullets could be heard in different parts of Kampala throughout the day, but things had calmed down by the evening.
“It wasn’t just in the middle of the city but different neighbourhoods [too],” Kagumire told Al Jazeera. “But also, outside of Kampala different towns were also engulfed in some level of protest calling for the release of Bobi Wine.”
Kagumire added: “Things are tense. People are worried and we don’t know what’s coming next.”
Resistance against tyranny is not only a right. It is a DUTY for oppressed people to carry out! #WeAreRemovingADictator
— BOBI WINE (@HEBobiwine) November 18, 2020
It came after the Twitter account of Bobi Wine, a musician turned opposition leader, said police had violently broken into his vehicle and taken him into custody.
“The price of freedom is high but we shall certainly overcome,” said in one of the tweets.
Police spokesman Fred Enanga said Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, was arrested for violating COVID-19 guidelines that require presidential candidates to meet or address less than 200 people.
Earlier, riots broke out in Kampala after the news of the arrest of @HEBobiwine in Luuka reached the Capital city. NTV Uganda's Patrick Mukasa recorded the chaos as the property was destroyed in places like Kiseka market #NTVNews #UGDecides2021
— NTV UGANDA (@ntvuganda) November 18, 2020
“Bobi has been arrested this morning in Luuka town, but we do not know his whereabouts right now,” the politician’s brother, opposition activist Fred Nyanzi, told the news agency dpa.
“We have not been allowed to see him and we don’t know what is happening,” asserted Joel Ssenyonyi, the spokesman for Bobi Wine’s political party, the National Unity Platform.
Since expressing his intention to run in the election against long-ruling, 76-year-old President Yoweri Museveni, 38-year-old Bobi Wine has been arrested multiple times.
He has won a large following, especially among young people in the East African country, where general elections are scheduled in January 2021.
Many young supporters say they are drawn to Bobi Wine by his criticism of Museveni’s government mingled in his lyrics. Others say that as a young leader, he is better positioned to tackle the challenges they face.
Bobi Wine’s large following has rattled the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, and security forces have frequently fired tear gas at his rallies and detained and beaten his supporters, witnesses say.
On the day he was nominated early this month, a squad of military and police personnel used metallic tools to break into his vehicle. He was subsequently detained briefly and police used tear gas to disperse his supporters.
Museveni, who has been in power since 1986 and had the constitution amended twice to allow him to run a sixth time in 2021, is seeking another five-year term in the January polls.
“The demographic shifts are not in favour of President Museveni. Personally, I haven’t seen any other president,” Kagumire said.
“People are looking for at least a shot in the election. But the election ground is very unlevel. If President Museveni is campaigning with over 200 people, there is nothing wrong. But if an opposition figure goes with many supporters, he is arrested.”