A detained pop star and lawmaker “is in a lot of pain” after suffering “severe beating” in detention, the deputy speaker of Uganda’s parliament said Wednesday, as pressure mounted on the government to free the young man challenging President Yoweri Museveni’s long rule.
Jacob Oulanyah told reporters that legislator Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, whose stage name is Bobi Wine, was in a “humorous” mood despite his condition.
“This should not have happened,” Oulanyah said of the beating. “It was not necessary. But it happened.”
The government denies the allegations of torture. The military released a video of Ssentamu smiling during Oulanyah’s visit.
Ssentamu is expected to make an appearance in a military court on Thursday.
Earlier this week one of Ssentamu’s attorneys, Robert Amsterdam, said his client was “subjected to inhuman and horrific acts of torture by the Ugandan security services from which it is possible he may never recover.” He suggested “Magnitsky-style sanctions,” referring to the Global Magnitsky Act, which authorizes sanctions on individuals and companies involved in rights abuses and corruption.
Ssentamu has not been seen in public since August 13, when he was campaigning in a by-election to choose a lawmaker in the northwestern town of Arua.
Museveni was in Arua at the same time, campaigning for a rival candidate who eventually lost. While Museveni was departing, authorities said, his motorcade was pelted with stones by people associated with Ssentamu and the candidate he backed, Kassiano Wadri.
Ssentamu’s driver was shot and killed, allegedly by security forces.
The 36-year-old Ssentamu was arrested along with four other opposition lawmakers, three of whom face treason charges. A fifth lawmaker, Francis Zaake, has been hospitalized with injures allegedly sustained during detention.
Security forces in recent days have violently put down street protests by Ugandans demanding the release of Ssentamu, who is charged with illegal possession of firearms. The protests, initially staged in a suburb of the capital where Ssentamu grew up, have spread to other parts of Kampala as young people barricade roads and burn tires and the police give chase.
Scores were arrested in riots in Kampala on Monday, and footage aired by local broadcasters showed men in military uniforms beating up people in the streets, including at least two journalists covering the protests.
Although Kampala was peaceful on Wednesday, riots were reported in the eastern town of Jinja, a gateway to the Indian Ocean ports of neighboring Kenya.
Religious leaders have condemned the violence “in which lives are lost, people are barbarically arrested and tortured and property destroyed.”
Ssentamu has emerged as an influential figure after winning a seat in parliament last year. Multiple opposition candidates he has campaigned for in by-elections have emerged victorious, defeating both the ruling party and established opposition parties. Some of his followers are urging him to run for president.
Museveni, a U.S. ally on regional security, took power by force in 1986 and has since been elected five times. Although he has campaigned on his record of establishing peace and stability, some worry that those gains are being eroded the longer he stays in power.
The 74-year-old Museveni is now able to seek re-election in 2021 because parliament passed legislation last year removing a clause in the constitution that had prevented anyone over 75 from holding the presidency.
Ssentamu publicly opposed that decision.