NAIROBI (Reuters) – A Ugandan lawmaker whose arrest sparked two days of anti-government demonstrations has been left unable to stand after being beaten while in detention, his lawyer said on Tuesday, citing relatives who visited him.
The Ugandan government denied the assault accusation as “rubbish” and said the London-based lawyer should visit the detention facility to see for himself.
The arrest last week of Robert Kyagulanyi, a musician-turned-lawmaker who goes by the stage name Bobi Wine, and four other lawmakers critical of President Yoweri Museveni triggered protests in the capital Kampala and other parts of the country.
They were arrested on Aug. 13 on suspicion of involvement in the stoning of a presidential convoy during a parliamentary by-election campaign. Kyagulanyi was charged on Aug. 16 with unlawful possession of weapons and ammunition while three other lawmakers and dozens of other people also detained in relation to the stoning incident were charged with treason. He remains in a military facility in Kampala.
“We believe the ribs on the right side are crushed. He was beaten with a metal bar,” Robert Amsterdam, one of Kyagulanyi’s attorneys told Reuters, citing reports relayed to him from relatives who had visited Kyagulanyi. “He’s unable to stand.”
Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo dismissed the comments.
“That’s rubbish,” Opondo said. “If (Amsterdam) is indeed Bobi Wine’s lawyer, let him go to the detention facility and apply to see him and establish for himself whether his ribs are crushed.”
A spokesman for Amsterdam said he had not yet been able to travel to Kampala but that a member of his law firm had arrived and that he was in touch with the Kyagulanyi and the local legal team “on an hourly basis”. The spokesman said direct access to Kyagulanyi had been “severely restricted”.
Kyagulanyi, whose songs are stingingly critical of Museveni’s government, has a large youth following. He entered parliament last year.
Protesters and opposition supporters accuse Museveni, in power since 1986, of stifling dissent through intimidation, beatings and detentions, charges which his government denies.
On Monday, police in Kampala fired tear gas and military units were deployed to disperse demonstrators who set up bonfires and barricades in a second day of protests.
Police said they had detained 68 people during two days of disturbances. Among them was a Reuters photographer, who has since been released from police detention. Footage broadcast by local station NTV showed people being struck with clubs and canes by men in uniform during the unrest.
On Tuesday, the army condemned what it said was the “unprofessional conduct” of soldiers who beat journalists covering the demonstration. It said in a statement that the head of the military had ordered the arrest and punishment of the soldiers responsible.
“Reuters condemns in the strongest possible terms the physical violence used against our photographer,” Reuters said in a statement. It said it would evaluate how to address the situation with local authorities in the coming days.
(This story corrects charges against Kyagulanyi in paragraph four)
Editing by Maggie Fick and Nick Tattersall