Nearly 40 people have been killed in protests following the arrest of Ugandan presidential candidate Bobi Wine aka Robert Kyagulanyi for allegedly violating Covid-19 rules and endangering lives at his election campaign rallies. He was later granted bail by a court in the eastern town of Iganga.
The violence erupted following the arrest of 38-year-old Bobi Wine, who seeks to unseat President Yoweri Museveni after 34 years in power.
Ahead of a political rally in the run-up to the 14th January election, the two-day protests were held from Wednesday, 18th November.
A court in Iganga Town, east of Kampala, released the youthful politician on bail on Friday, 20th November, after the violent clashes between his supporters and the police had left at least 37 people dead and many others injured.
Bobi Wine had denied breaching Covid-19 restrictions on large gatherings.
After his release, he told AFP: “I was violently arrested, tortured while in detention, and threatened with death but this did not break my resolve.”
He added: “I promise the people of Uganda that whatever the situation, I will not abandon them on a journey we started together. We must finish it together and that’s when we have removed a dictator from power.”
Police responded with teargas, rubber bullets and live rounds in Kampala and other towns to quell the protests.
Many young people in Uganda look up to Bobi Wine as their champion in a country ravaged by poverty and unemployment.
Speaking to AFP, police health director Moses Byaruhanga said the victims had died of suffocation and wounds.
“We have recorded so far 37 dead bodies, those related to the protests, which started Wednesday.”
He also revealed that 375 people had been arrested. “All indicators reveal these were not just impromptu actions.”
Ugandan Human Rights Watch researcher Oryem Nyeko said: “The authorities have consistently used Covid-19 guidelines as an excuse for the violent repression of the opposition rather than to safeguard the democratic playing field for free and fair elections.”
His organisation has accused Uganda of seeking to “weaponise” the pandemic restrictions, using rules on gatherings to stop political rallies.
It urged the Ugandan security forces to respect the right of the people to protest peacefully.
Nyeko said: “The increasing spate of violence so early in the campaign season does not bode well for the weeks to come before the elections.”
Earlier this week, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric called for Bobi Wine’s release as the US embassy in Kampala condemned the violence and extended sympathy to victims and their families.
Museveni is one of Africa’s longest serving leaders, having seized power in 1986.
After his release, Bobi Wine said: “It’s Museveni, who is supposed to be in the dock for the killing of innocent citizens.”
He is expected to appear in court on 18th December. According to the charge sheet in the Iganga court, the opposition presidential candidate is accused of committing “an act which he knew or had reason to believe was likely to spread the infection of Covid-19.”