A Ugandan pop star-turned-politician who opposes the country’s longtime president was charged with treason in a civilian court on Thursday, minutes after a military court dropped weapons charges.
The new charge was expected to bring fresh outrage from Ugandans and global musicians after Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, also known as Bobi Wine, alleged he had been severely beaten while in detention. The government denies the claim.
Mr Ssentamu has emerged as an influential critic of president Yoweri Museveni, especially among youth, after winning a parliament seat last year.
The 36-year-old had been charged last week with illegal possession of firearms for his alleged role in an incident in which Mr Museveni’s motorcade was pelted with stones.
A military court freed him on Thursday but the politician was re-arrested by police and taken to a magistrates’ court.
Mr Ssentamu limped during his appearance in military court and appeared to cry as he rubbed his eyes. A colleague wrapped the national flag about his shoulders. He sat in the dock in magistrates’ court as his lawyers said he was unable to stand on his own.
The pop star-turned-politician, centre, leaves shortly after being sworn in as a member of parliament in Kampala (AP)
Lawyers for Mr Ssentamu asked the magistrate to order his remand to a health facility. The magistrate ruled that Mr Ssentamu should be allowed access to his own doctors. He was remanded until 30 August.
He had been arrested with four other opposition politicians, three of whom also face treason charges. A fifth has been hospitalised with injures allegedly sustained during detention.
Mr Ssentamu’s appearance on Thursday was the first time he had been seen in public since his detention. He clenched his fists and greeted supporters.
In recent days Uganda’s government has faced mounting pressure at home and abroad to free him. Security forces have violently put down street protests demanding his release.
On Thursday, other opposition figures expressed concern about being targeted by security forces. “Every way out of my home is barricaded since very early today,” Kizza Besigye, a four-time presidential challenger who has been jailed many times, tweeted.
Protesters set a bonfire on a street to demand the release of Bobi Wine
Police spokesman Emilian Kayima later said Mr Besigye was arrested when he tried to force his way out.
Police were also deployed, under what the spokesman called “preventive arrest,” at the homes of certain Ugandans after receiving intelligence that some “wanted to engage in criminal activities”.