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Ugandan court orders freedom of opposition leader Bobi Wine

Bobi Wine says police shot through the window of his vehicle while he attempted to pass a roadblock during campaigning on 1 December 2020 in Jinja, Uganda. (Photo: Getty Images)
By Reuters
25 Jan 2021 0

KAMPALA, Jan 25 (Reuters) - A Ugandan court has ordered security forces to cease surrounding the home of opposition leader Bobi Wine, whose house arrest since a mid-month presidential election has drawn international pressure, his lawyer said on Monday.

* Presidential challenger surrounded in house since Jan. 14 vote

* Museveni won re-election, but Wine’s party alleged fraud

* Foreign pressure on Uganda to free pop star Wine (Adds background, military spokeswoman, Wine’s party spokesman)

By Elias Biryabarema

Troops have blocked the 38-year-old pop star-turned-politician from leaving his house in a suburb of the capital Kampala since he voted in the Jan. 14 election where he ran against long-serving incumbent President Yoweri Museveni.

“The judge ordered that the state and its agencies should immediately vacate his property and his right to personal liberty should immediately be reinstated,” lawyer George Musisi told Reuters.

Museveni, 76, who has been in power since 1986, was declared winner of the poll with 59% of votes versus 35% for Wine, who had for years denounced corruption and nepotism in his songs. He rejected the result, alleging fraud which the government denies.

Uganda’s military was aware of the court ruling and would comply, said military spokeswoman Brigadier Flavia Byekwaso, without specifying when soldiers would depart.

Barricades were still up by early afternoon.

 

FOREIGN PRESSURE

Pressure has been mounting on the government to free Wine, including from the United States and rights group Amnesty International which called his incarceration arbitrary and politically motivated.

Joel Ssenyonyi, spokesman for Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP), said lawyers were moving to serve the court order to security agencies. “Their continued presence there is illegal,” he said.

Last week, U.S. ambassador Natalie E. Brown tried to visit Wine at his home, drawing an accusation of meddling and subversion from the Ugandan government.

Museveni has long been a Western ally, receiving copious aid and sending troops to regional trouble spots including Somalia to fight Islamist militants.

But Western backers have become increasingly frustrated at his reluctance to cede power and crackdowns on opponents.

Wine had channelled the anger of many young Ugandans who view former guerrilla leader Museveni as an out-of-touch autocrat repressing dissenters and failing to create jobs.

“The Ugandan government continues to use state security in a partisan manner to harass and intimidate its citizens, press, and political opposition,” tweeted U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer on Sunday. “Mr. Museveni’s tactics towards those who advocate for an inclusive democracy is dangerous and must be addressed by the global community.”

Museveni casts Wine as an upstart backed by foreign powers and says only his administration can guarantee political stability and economic progress. There was no immediate government comment on the court ruling about Wine. (Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Cawthorne)

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