A Ugandan court on Friday charged opposition leader Bobi Wine over an election rally which allegedly flouted Covid-19 rules, then freed him on bail, after his detention sparked violence that left 37 dead.
Wine was charged with “doing an act likely to spread infectious diseases contrary to the penal code and rules of the public health on Covid-19,” said judiciary spokesman Solomon Muyita.
Two days of protests were sparked by Wine’s arrest on Wednesday ahead of a political rally in the run-up to the January 14 election, in which he is seen as the main challenger to President Yoweri Museveni, who is seeking to extend his 36-year rule.
“I was violently arrested, tortured while in detention, threatened with death but this did not break my resolve,” Wine told AFP after his release.
“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,” he said, referring to Museveni.
In Kampala, drivers blared their horns and radio stations played Wine’s hits after news of his release came through.
Dozens died and hundreds were arrested this week as tyres were burned and police responded to hurled rocks with teargas, rubber bullets and live rounds in the capital Kampala and other towns.
There was a heavy police and army presence in Kampala with roadblocks and security checks.
We have recorded so far 37 dead bodies, those related to the protests which started Wednesday,” police health director Moses Byaruhanga told AFP, adding that the victims had died of wounds and suffocation.
Addressing a press conference Friday, police spokesman Fred Enanga claimed the protests were “part of a loosely coordinated campaign” and not spontaneous.
He said that bows and arrows, as well as bottles, tyres and fuel for incendiary devices had been found.
“All indicators reveal these were not just impromptu actions,” he said, adding that 375 people had so far been arrested.
‘Weaponising’ the pandemic
Wine is due to appear in court again on December 18.
According to the charge sheet, seen by AFP, Wine is accused of “an act which he knew or had reason to believe was likely to spread the infection of Covid-19.”
Human Rights Watch accuses Uganda of seeking to “weaponise” pandemic restrictions, using rules on gatherings to stop political rallies.
“The authorities have consistently used Covid-19 guidelines as an excuse for violent repression of the opposition rather than to safeguard the democratic playing field for free and fair elections,” said Africa researcher Oryem Nyeko