The Ugandan presidential candidate Bobi Wine has been detained for the third time in two months, while campaigning in the country’s central region.
Wine, a popular musician whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was taken to the capital Kampala in a military helicopter. Members of his campaign team were also detained.
Police accused Wine of breaching a campaigning ban, ostensibly introduced because of the coronavirus pandemic, but the district he was campaigning in wasn’t covered by the ban.
As news of Wine’s arrest spread, there were reports of protests and police using teargas against demonstrators.
Photographs from the scene showed Wine being escorted by at least 10 police officers, some armed with rifles. Wine was wearing a helmet and bulletproof vest, which he has said he uses to prevent injuries whenever police disperse his meetings.
The country’s long-term president, Yoweri Museveni, who has held power since 1986, faces a strong challenge from Wine, who has rallied impoverished young people. Efforts to intimidate Wine since he announced his candidacy have included him being arrested several times, on the first occasion only minutes after his formal nomination in the capital, Kampala.
Joel Senyonyi, a spokesman for Wine’s party, the National Unity Platform, described the arrest. He said: “Bobi Wine and the entire team he went with to Kalangala to campaign have been arrested. Kalangala was one of the districts on schedule for today. It’s not one of the districts where they have banned campaigns.
“So when he got there, him and team were arrested. They didn’t tell them why they are arresting them, where they are taking them and all of that. We are following.
“It’s a continued intimidation. The state is trying to slow us down, to intimidate our candidate and citizens. But we are determined. We are very strong. We are going all the way. We must remove the dictatorship.”
Fred Enanga, a police spokesman, said in a statement: “We would like to clarify that the candidate [Bobi Wine] was restrained for continuously holding massive rallies amidst the increased threats of coronavirus, in total disregard of the electoral commission and ministry of health guidelines.
“He’s being transferred to his home in Magere, Kampala. Part of his advance team, captured on CCTV cameras and several video footages, while deflating tyres of police motor vehicles, inciting violence, obstructing police officers on duty, violating the health and safety protocols and various traffic offences, have been arrested.”
Political intimidation of opposition figures has been a feature of Uganda’s political landscape, not least during periods of election campaigning.
Wine’s latest arrest follows the decision by electoral authorities to ban campaign events in some urban areas, including Kampala, citing the need to control the spread of the coronavirus.
That decision was criticised by some who see it as a ploy to prevent opposition figures from displaying their support in areas where the ruling party is not so popular.
Wine has emerged as the strongest challenger to Museveni in the presidential election on 14 January. He has urged the 76-year-old incumbent to retire peacefully. But Museveni’s supporters say he is their best candidate, citing his popularity in many rural areas and with older voters.
In November, at least 54 people died after protests erupted after Wine’s brief detention over an alleged violation of Covid-19-related social distancing measures.
Police said at the time they had arrested nearly 600 people and accused protesters of rioting and looting.
On Tuesday, UN human rights experts called on Uganda to rein in security forces and drop charges against political opponents and activists arrested in what the experts called an election clampdown.
“We are gravely concerned by the election-related violence, the excessive use of force by security personnel, as well as the increasing crackdown on peaceful protesters, political and civil society leaders and human rights defenders,” the UN group said on Tuesday.
It added: “Since the publication of the guidelines on the conduct of elections during Covid-19 in June by the Uganda electoral commission, we have witnessed gradual shrinking of civic space, and misuse and abuse of health-related restrictions to curb dissent in the country.”
Wine’s arrest came as a prominent rights lawyer who was jailed in Uganda on criminal charges was bailed on Wednesday amid intense pressure from the international community and watchdog groups urging authorities to respect human rights in the run-up to the elections.
Nicholas Opiyo had spent a week in prison, charged with money laundering after officials queried a $340,000 (£250,000) transfer into a bank account held by the rights group he leads. His lawyers say he is innocent, and his group, Chapter Four Uganda, calls the charges frivolous.
This article was published by The Guardian.