Bobi Wine being arrested/ AFP Photo
Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine on Tuesday vowed to press on with campaigns ahead of next week’s presidential elections despite intimidation by the police.
Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, is the main challenger of President Yoweri Museveni in the January 14 poll, and has accused the Ugandan President of employing guerrilla tactics to intimidate and harass the opposition into submission.
On Tuesday, Wine, through his official Twitter handle, said the arrest of his supporters and human rights activists in the country will not stop his resolve to change the leadership in Uganda.
“Torture of prisoners is commonplace in Uganda. For political prisoners, there is a small clique of officers who impose the punishment with precision. On January 14, Ugandans will vote to end these egregious violations,” Wine said.
Wine spoke amidst growing tension in the East African country ahead of the polls, as protesters and the international community continued to pile pressure on the government to stop the arrests.
Last week, 11 top human rights experts at the United Nations issued a joint statement expressing concern at the pre-election violence and “the increasing crackdown on peaceful protesters, political and civil society leaders and human rights defenders”.
“The prosecution of Nicholas Opiyo and other lawyers, as well as the judicial harassment of those who express dissent, appear to be strictly related to the electoral context, and fictitious charges being used to justify them,” the statement read.
Opiyo, an internationally-recognised human rights campaigner and outspoken government critic, was arrested on charges of money laundering, drawing condemnation from around the globe and calls for his immediate release.
Mostly youthful population
His arrest had been seen as politically motivated by many, leading to protests from the mostly youthful population that has become popular with Wine.
The courts, however, called for his release, after Justice Jane Okuo Kajuga rejected a case made by state prosecutors and granted the lawyer bail.
“We are glad that our client has been granted bail,” Opiyo’s lawyer David Mpanga told journalists outside the court.
“Nicholas is eminently qualified to be released on bail, there is no danger that he’ll abscond, there is no danger that he’ll interfere with the investigation, indeed, he’ll be in court whenever the court needs him.”
Diplomats from the US embassy in Kampala and several European missions were present in court for the bail hearing, which Opiyo attended via video link from a prison outside Kampala where he had been held since his arrest on December 22.
“Civil society actors and human rights defenders play a vital role in educating the citizenry and must be allowed to carry out their work free from harassment,” US Ambassador Natalie Brown posted on Twitter in welcoming Opiyo’s release on bail.
Wine, a popular figure among the vastly younger population – and who is banking on his star power to change the country’s fortunes – has likened Mr Museveni’s leadership to that of present and past rulers known for their autocratic leadership, and firm grip on power.
“We are supposed to be celebrating Independence but Ugandans have nothing to celebrate. President Museveni is very scared of the ideas that we represent. He believes by blocking us from communication, by stopping us from enjoying our rights, he is going to disempower us, he is going to demotivate us,” he said.
President Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for 35 years, is seeking a sixth term in office.