A pop star-turned-opposition MP in Uganda has been charged with unlawful possession of weapons in a military court, following his arrest after the presidential convoy was pelted with stones.
Robert Kyagulanyi, who goes by the stage name Bobi Wine, was arrested in the northwestern town of Arua earlier this week.
“Hon. Kyagulanyi has today been arraigned before the General Court Martial in Gulu and charged … on accounts of unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition,” a statement signed by army spokesman Brigadier Richard Karemire said on Thursday.
Kyagulanyi has been held in custody and will reappear in court on August 23.
His lawyer, Asuman Basalirwa, complained that he had been unable to consult his client.
“The army has refused us access to him. Even his family has been denied access,” he said.
Kyagulanyi’s wife insisted he does not know how to handle a weapon, and rights activists demanded his release. In a suburb of the capital, Kampala, small groups of his supporters took to the streets and burned tyres in protest but police quickly dispersed them, national police spokesman Emilian Kayima said.
Three other legislators arrested alongside Ssentamu were charged earlier on Thursday with treason in a magistrates’ court in Gulu.
Many Ugandans expressed concern for Kyagulanyi’s safety after Uganda’s deputy prime minister told legislators he had been hospitalised in custody, without giving details.
The clashes broke out on Monday when Kyagulanyi and other politicians, including President Yoweri Museveni, were in Arua campaigning in a by-election to choose a legislator after the previous one was shot dead near Kampala in June.
Ssentamu’s driver was shot dead in the clashes. The lawmaker later posted a picture of the dead man on Twitter, saying he had been killed by the police “thinking they’ve shot at me”
A group of legislators authorised by the parliamentary speaker to investigate the situation told reporters on Thursday that they had been unable to see the pop star.
Kizza Besigye, a four-time presidential challenger who has himself been detained many times, told reporters that Ssentamu’s case highlighted what he called “the hopelessness” of parliament before a powerful army military.
Museveni has said in a statement that Ssentamu and others would be “punished according to the law”.
Kyagulanyi, who is his 30s and was elected to parliament last year, has emerged as a powerful voice with his calls for young people to “stand up” and take over this East African country from what he calls the current government’s failed leadership.
In hotly contested by-elections this year he has backed candidates who emerged victorious, signaling his rise in ranks of the political opposition. Many followers urge him to run in the next presidential election in 2021.
Museveni, a key US security ally, took power by force in 1986 and has since been elected five times. The last vote in 2016 was marred by allegations of fraud.
Although Museveni has campaigned on his record of establishing peace and stability, some worry that those gains are being eroded the longer he stays in power.
Museveni, who is 73, 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.