Uganda’s pop star-turned-politician Bobi Wine said he was arrested, “beaten” and “tortured” by police on Tuesday minutes after he registered his candidacy to challenge President Yoweri Museveni in next year’s election.
Wine, a 38-year-old opposition MP whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was pulled by police from his car and thrown into a van after submitting his nomination papers to election officials in the capital Kampala, televised footage showed.
Police then violently dispersed Wine’s supporters who were waiting by his home, the head of his National Unity Party told AFP news agency.
Wine told AFP by telephone that he was held for several hours in the police van and was “tortured” before the officers who had driven him home finally left, while remaining heavily deployed in the neighbourhood.
“The torture, the beating took place in the police vehicle where I was detained for close to three hours,” Wine said.
“They sprayed me with tear gas … hot metal was placed in my hands, I have scars all over, my whole body hurts.”
The presidential hopeful, who has amassed a popular youth following, nonetheless promised he would “not abandon” his quest to unseat one of Africa’s longest-serving rulers.
National Unity Party secretary general David Lewis Rubongoya told AFP that when Wine was taken home, “police, supported by the army, fired tear gas to disperse supporters”.
The army and police then took over the residence and closed the road leading to it, Rubongoya said.
‘A fracas ensued’
Images broadcast on Ugandan television showed police clashing with Wine’s supporters at Kyambogo University, where over two days the election commission cleared 11 candidates to contest the presidency in early 2021.
Museveni, who had the constitution amended twice to allow him to run a sixth time in 2021, filed his candidacy on Monday as the flag bearer for the ruling National Resistance Movement party.
Police spokesman Fred Enanga said Wine was arrested because he planned to hold an “illegal” rally following his nomination, something the election commission had banned due to coronavirus concerns.
“He was forcefully removed from his vehicle, and a fracas ensued in the process of transferring him to the police vehicle. He was eventually safely delivered to his home,” Enanga said in a joint statement issued by Uganda’s security forces.
He said Wine and his supporters were involved in “violent running battles” with security forces, with three officers and four civilians injured, and two police vehicles damaged. Some 49 arrests were made, Enanga said.
Another opposition presidential candidate, Patrick Oboi Amuriat, arrived shoeless and dishevelled to file his candidacy after being intercepted en route to party headquarters and bundled into a police van.
“It is disgusting, disappointing, but this was expected by a regime that is shameless, desperate to cling to power,” Amuriat told AFP after being marched by police across the university campus in his socks, his suit askew.
He said the headquarters of his party, the Forum for Democratic Change, was surrounded by police and military ahead of his nomination.
Police spokesman Enanga said Amuriat had also planned a rally in defiance of police orders and was “safely transported” to submit his nomination papers to election officials.
The US embassy in Kampala had warned of “elevated potential for civil disturbances” near the university on Tuesday, and advised Americans to steer clear.
Wine, nicknamed the “Ghetto President”, has faced escalating police harassment since announcing his intention to challenge Museveni, who seized power at the head of a rebel army in 1986.
Wine’s concerts are routinely banned and public rallies broken up with tear gas, and Wine himself is frequently arrested.
His catchy pop songs about social justice, poverty and corruption have shaken the ruling party and its ageing patriarch Museveni, who at 76 is the only president most Ugandans have ever known.