Ugandan pop star, a government critic, faces military court

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — A pop singer and prominent critic of Uganda’s government was charged with unlawful possession of firearms in a military court on Thursday for his alleged role in clashes in which the longtime president’s motorcade was attacked by people throwing stones.

The arrest of lawmaker Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, whose stage name is Bobi Wine, has set off an outcry in the East African nation, with rights groups demanding his release. He has not been seen in public since he was detained after Monday’s clashes.

A lawyer for Ssentamu, Medard Sseggona, told reporters after Thursday’s closed-door hearing that his client had been so “brutalized he cannot walk, he cannot stand, he can only sit with difficulty ... It is hard to say whether he understands this and that.”

Ssentamu was arrested in the northwestern town of Arua earlier this week. He will reappear in court on Aug. 23, the military said in a statement.

Three other lawmakers arrested were charged earlier on Thursday with treason.

Many Ugandans have expressed concern for Ssentamu’s safety after the country’s deputy prime minister told lawmakers he had been hospitalized in custody, without giving details. The official also said he would be tried as a militant because he had allegedly been found to have a gun in his possession.

Ssentamu’s wife insisted he doesn’t know how to handle a weapon, however.

In a suburb of the capital, Kampala, small groups of supporters took to the streets and burned tires in protest but police quickly dispersed them, national police spokesman Emilian Kayima said.

The clashes broke out on Monday when Ssentamu and other politicians, including President Yoweri Museveni, were in Arua campaigning in a by-election to choose a lawmaker after the previous one was shot dead near Kampala in June.

Security forces accused Ssentamu and his group of throwing stones at the president’s motorcade. Ssentamu’s driver later was shot dead during attempts to disperse the crowd, according to police.

The lawmaker later posted a picture of the dead man on Twitter, saying he had been killed by the police “thinking they’ve shot at me.”

Kizza Besigye, a four-time presidential challenger who has himself been detained many times, told reporters that the case of the detained lawmakers highlighted what he called “the hopelessness” of parliament before a military regime.

Museveni has said in a statement that Ssentamu and others would be “punished according to the law.”

The 36-year-old Ssentamu, who was elected to parliament last year, has emerged as a powerful voice with his calls for young people to “stand up” and take over this East African country from what he calls the current government’s failed leadership.

In hotly contested by-elections this year he has backed candidates who emerged victorious, signaling his rise in ranks of the political opposition. Many followers urge him to run in the next presidential election in 2021.

Museveni, a key U.S. security ally, took power by force in 1986 and has since been elected five times. The last vote in 2016 was marred by allegations of fraud.

Although Museveni has campaigned on his record of establishing peace and stability, some worry that those gains are being eroded the longer he stays in power. Museveni, who is 73, is now able to seek re-election in 2021 because parliament passed legislation last year removing a clause in the constitution that had prevented anyone over 75 from holding the presidency.

Uganda has not witnessed a peaceful transfer of power since independence from Britain in 1962.


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