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Ugandan pop star turned politician rearrested and charged with treason

Bobi Wine appears before a military court on Thursday [Mujuni Raymond/Al Jazeera

After being released by a military court, Robert Kyagulanyi, a pop star-turned-opposition parliamentarian has been re-arrested and charged with treason.

On Thursday, Kyagulanyi, who goes by the stage name Bobi Wine, was taken to a civil court facing treason charges along with 33 others, including Kassiano Wadri, who won last week’s by-election in the northern Arua municipality.

Earlier military prosecutors in Uganda withdrew weapons charges against Kyagulanyi.

In a tweet, Nicholas Opiyo, one of Wine’s lawyers, said, “the charade, pretence and wanton abuse of Bobi’s rights by the army has ended.”

He added,”now we can embark on a civilian court to get justice. #FreeBobiwine.”

Kyagulanyi has been under military custody since August 14 for allegedly leading a group of people to pelt Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s convoy with stones ahead of the by-election.

A civilian magistrate ordered Kyagulanyi remanded in custody until August 30 and granted him access to private doctors citing the “health of the accused”, according to footage broadcast on state channel UBC.

Kyagulanyi was beaten while in detention, family members said. The Ugandan government called assault accusations “rubbish”.

The court ordered he be held in the northern city of Gulu, about 330km north of Kampala.

It was the first time the legislator had been seen in public since his detention. Walking with a limp, he clenched his fists and greeted supporters.

“The bogus charges have been dropped,” lawyer Medard Sseggona told local broadcaster NBS. “They claim they prefer charging him with the more serious offence of treason.”

The popular musician has emerged as an influential critic of President Yoweri Museveni after winning a seat in parliament last year.

‘A lot of pain’

Kyagulanyi had been arrested with four other opposition MPs, three of whom also face treason charges. A fifth legislator was hospitalised with injuries allegedly sustained during detention.

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi in Kampala reported Kyagulanyi looked physically unwell.

“He appears to be very weak and in a lot of pain. He has been having difficulties getting up from his chair,” she said.

Dozens of other Ugandans have been charged with treason and illegal possession of firearms over their alleged role in the stoning of the president’s convoy after a local election rally.

In recent days, Uganda’s government has faced pressure to free Kyagulanyi, with dozens of musicians around the world speaking out against his alleged beating in detention.

“This has backfired [against the government], many are demonstrating against Musevini,” Joseph Ochieno, an African affairs commentator, told Al Jazeera.

“Lawyers, organisations, actors and actresses, are beginning to take interest in Uganda, perhaps rather too late but we are here,” he added.

Security forces in recent days have violently put down street protests by Ugandans demanding his release. Scores were arrested in riots in Kampala on Monday, and video by local broadcasters showed men in military uniforms beating people, including at least two journalists.

Ugandan police also arrested two opposition politicians on Thursday for defying police orders not to leave their homes.

Kizza Besigye, who contested and lost four elections against Museveni, and Kato Lubwama were taken to police detention facilities, police spokesman Emilian Kayima said.

Earlier, police surrounded the homes of several opposition politicians, saying they had been placed under “preventive arrest” to try to stop unrest.

“These guys are rattled, because they know they are losing the support of the people, and anything could happen, ordinary Ugandans will simply say enough is enough,”  Ochieno said.


Bobi Wine’s arrest and what it could mean for Uganda


In a statement late Wednesday, Museveni accused “unprincipled politicians” of luring youth into rioting.

Responding to calls on social media to #FreeBobiWine, the president said he had no power to do so. “Let us therefore wait for the courts and see what they decide.”

Museveni took power by force in 1986 and has since been elected five times. Although he has campaigned on his record of establishing peace and stability, some worry those gains are being eroded the longer he stays in power.

The 74-year-old Museveni 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.

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