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Ugandan ‘Ghetto president’ treason charges reduced

Charges against Ugandan politician and musician Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, have been reduced from treason to illegal possession of arms. Kyagulanyi had been charged with treason following a deadly clash with Ugandan police forces which left his driver dead.

Kyagulanyi rose to prominence when he started making music under the moniker Bobi Wine in the early 2000s. The musician, who holds a professional boxing license, is also an actor and ambassador of a variety of humanitarian causes. In April 2017, he announced his candidacy for Parliament in a by-election for the Kyaddondo East constituency.

According to media reports, Wine is currently in hospital receiving treatment for a beating received at the hands of security forces. Kyagulanyi’s lawyer, Asuman Basalirwa who was present during the arraignment, said the opposition lawmaker had been beaten badly while in police custody and was unable to walk properly.

Speaking to Uganda’s Daily Monitor newspaper, Medard Segona, another lawyer on Kyagulani’s legal team, described Kyagulanyi’s health as “dire” saying: “Mr Kyagulanyi’s health is in a dire state. He is in great pain. He can’t talk, he can’t walk, he sits with a lot of difficulty, his face is swollen and he cannot see because of the torture by SFC [Special Forces Command] soldiers. He couldn’t speak when the charges were read to him and I believe he didn’t know what was going or understood the charges read to him.”

Kyagulanyi was unable to take a plea due to his condition, Segona said.

The self-titled ‘Ghetto President’ was arrested last week along with several other legislators and opposition supporters, following a run-in with police at a by-election campaign where Kyagulanyi and Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni were supporting opposing candidates.

According to police, Museveni’s motorcade was pelted with stones, causing the police to respond with teargas and gunfire. Kyagulanyi — who was barricaded in his hotel room for several hours before being taken into custody — was later arraigned before a military court and charged with malicious damage to the motor vehicle belonging to the convoy of the president, unlawful possession of firearms and treason.

If convicted, Kyagulanyi faces the possibility of a lengthy jail term. Kassiano Wadri, the candidate who Kyagulanyi was supporting and who was arrested alongside him, won the by-election.

Since winning a seat in Parliament, Kyagulanyi has been the target of harassment from the Ugandan government. Online, Ugandans have expressed support for the 36-year-old MP who see this as another attempt by the Museveni to crush dissent. Kyagulanyi’s supporters are demanding his immediate release using the hashtags #ReleaseBobiWine and #FreeBobiWine.

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Kiri Rupiah
Kiri Rupiah is the online editor at the Mail & Guardian.

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