Ugandan Politician and Activist Imprisoned by Military, Allegedly Tortured
Bobi Wine is a champion of human rights and the poor.
Ugandan politician, hip-hop star, and Global Citizen ambassador Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, popularly known as Bobi Wine, has allegedly been tortured in military detention and is being denied medical care, according to a statement from his wife, Barbie Kyagulanyi.
Wine, who is a parliament member for the Kyadondo East constituency, was first arrested on Aug. 16 on charges of gun possession after the military sought to quash large-scale demonstrations in favor of political reform, according to the BBC. His driver was shot and killed while sitting in his car following a heated election in the town of Aura, and Wine was allegedly beaten and arrested soon after. More than 34 other opposition political figures have also been arrested, according to reports.
Through his wife, Wine has strongly denied the allegations against him. A lawyer has since petitioned the Constitutional Court for the immediate release of Wine. NTV has a full version of Wine’s account of his arrest here.
Kyagulanyi released a statement after visiting Wine in the Makindye military prison with a team of lawyers and members of the Uganda Human Rights Commission.
She said in the statement:
Bobi cannot stand on his own. He has a swollen face — very deformed. At first sight, it is very unlikely that you would recognize him. You may not understand this unless if you see him. His forehead is bruised and his eyes are red. He has many wounds including one on his ear. He seems to have been punched many times on the face. He cannot walk. He was carried into the room where we saw him. He cannot sit straight. He speaks with difficulty and has a lot of pain breathing. He has great pain in the left side ribs and hip. He bled a lot through the ears and through the nose. Blood stains are still visible! He is in such a terrible state and in need of urgent medical attention. I could not believe that an innocent man can be taken through all this because he has a different political opinion.
Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has called reports of torture “fake news,” according to the BBC.
In recent years, Wine has emerged as a powerful voice for reform in the country after parlaying his popularity as a musician into a successful political run in 2017 to represent Kyadondo East. He has since been a dogged champion for issues as diverse as women’s rights, universal access to health care, and access to food and water.
In 2017, he attended Global Citizen Live in New York and promised to fight to boost health care spending by 15% in Uganda. Earlier this year, Uganda slashed budgets across the board, but health care spending was quadrupled.
Wine is sometimes called “His Excellency the Ghetto President” to signify his deep connection to working-class people and the country’s poor. It’s been speculated that he could someday challenge Museveni, who has ruled the country since 1986, in a presidential run.
The week before being arrested, Wine came out with a deeply political song, and his new slogan is “People Power.” He has also criticized Museveni in the past and challenged the president's succesful effort to get rid of the presidential age limit of 75, allowing for an indefinite reign.
"The people of Uganda are ready for a new kind of leadership, a leadership which truly represents them. A leadership of the people, by the people and for the people in its true meaning," he said in his victory speech last year for Kyadondo East.
His sudden arrest and the torture he has reportedly faced may be politically motivated, according to Human Rights Watch. As a result, large-scale protests and riots have erupted throughout Uganda and in surrounding countries.
At least one person has been killed in clashes, many more have been injured, and hundreds have been arrested, the BBC reports. Journalists covering the protests have also been beaten by military personnel.
People are also taking to social media to demand Wine’s release.
The detention of Bobi Wine is particularly infuriating to me because it represents everything terrible that has been slowly manifesting in this region for the last 5 years. Intolerance of dissent. Persecution of opponents. Punishing young people for being young and wanting more.— Nanjala Nyabola (@Nanjala1) August 20, 2018
Kenyans push for Bobi Wine release, plan peaceful protest in Nairobi https://t.co/QdB5hXR8BK— Citizen TV Kenya (@citizentvkenya) August 21, 2018
"The government should immediately release Kyagulanyi [Bobi Wine] and, if there is credible evidence of his wrongdoing, pursue any charges before civilian courts,” Human Rights Watch wrote in a statement. “The circumstances of his arrest during the by-election campaigns, his effective disappearance for three days, his brutal mistreatment, and detention by the military call into serious doubt whether there is any merit in the government’s allegations against him. His mistreatment suggests that it is no more than vicious retaliation against a popular opposition leader."
More than 80 artists, activists, and politicians from around the world, including Coldplay's Chris Martin and the Gorillaz' Damon Albarn, have signed an open letter calling for the Wine's safe release.
“We call upon the Ugandan government to ensure [Kyagulanyi has] full access to medical treatment, to allow a full and impartial investigation of his violent arrest and imprisonment and … to follow internationally recognised procedures and safeguards in proceeding with any case against him,” the letter, published on Tuesday night, read.
Despite the violence Wine has endured, the political activist is hopeful his case will be resolved.
"Bobi is strong at heart,” Kyagulanyi, his wife, said in her statement. “His resolve has not diminished. His bones have been broken, but his spirit has not been crushed. He is still the husband I met many years ago. He knows that he is innocent of all that he is being accused of. His only crime is standing for justice and for trying to speak for the common person."
But without pressure from both within and outside Uganda, Wine may not receive the medical care he so clearly needs.
“Our request is that he is urgently allowed to access his doctors so that he gets the much needed medical attention,” Kyagulanyi said. “Especially since he highly suspects that he underwent internal bleeding.”