The Ugandan pop star and opposition politician known as Bobi Wine was remanded to a maximum-security prison on Monday after being charged over his alleged role in a street protest last year against a tax on social media.
Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, and others led an anti-government protest in the capital, Kampala, in July 2018 without the police’s prior authorisation, Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga told The Associated Press.
Wine, 37, appeared in a magistrate’s court wearing his trademark red beret, the symbol of his movement against the long rule of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986. Wine will return to court on May 2, the earliest he can be freed on bail.
As Wine boarded a prison service van, his supporters chanted the slogan he has popularised: “People power!”
Robert Amsterdam, one of Wine’s attorneys, urged Ugandan authorities to “act immediately to release (Wine) and drop these fabricated charges.”
The popular singer has emerged as a powerful opponent to Museveni. Wine is urging Uganda’s youth to take over leadership of this East African country and has hinted he may run for the presidency in 2021.
He has had several rough encounters with the security forces, including being detained briefly inside his own home on the outskirts of Kampala last week by police who said they wanted to protect public order.
Wine faces separate treason charges stemming from an incident in which Museveni’s presidential convoy was attacked by stone throwers during a campaign event in a northern town last August. Wine’s arrest over that event sparked street protests in Kampala by supporters demanding his release, with scores of people detained, and a social media campaign to #FreeBobiWine was launched. Dozens of top international musicians, including Angelique Kidjo and Chris Martin, signed a letter demanding his release.
While the more serious treason charges have been widely dismissed as fake and politically motivated, the new charges disobedience of statutory authority could encumber Wine’s political activism if he fails to win bail.
Enanga, the police spokesman, said the director of public prosecutions, had finally sanctioned the criminal charges following months of investigations.
Wine was a successful singer in Uganda before he won a seat in the national assembly in 2017. His popularity grew when he opposed efforts to prolong Museveni’s rule.
Museveni, who is 74, is now able to seek re-election in 2021 after parliament passed legislation removing a clause in the constitution that had prevented anyone over 75 from holding the presidency. In one chaotic session as the bill was being debated, security personnel entered the parliamentary chamber and roughed up opposition lawmakers, including Wine, who had been trying to delay a procedural vote.
In recent years Ugandan forces have been accused by opposition politicians of harassing and torturing perceived opponents, and Museveni himself is accused of wanting to rule for life.
Museveni accuses Wine and other opposition figures of encouraging young people into rioting.
Uganda has not witnessed a peaceful transfer of power since independence from Britain in 1962.