KAMPALA —The United States of America has for the second time this month—warned of consequences to those who undermine democracy and human rights abusers especially ahead of 2021 general elections.
Following the release of human rights lawyer Nicholas Opio from maximum prison, the US Embassy in Kampala in a Twitter post on Wednesday said: “We welcome today’s release on bail of @NickOpiyo . Civil society actors and human rights defenders play a vital role in educating the citizenry and must be allowed to carry out their work free from harassment. There will be consequences for those who undermine democracy.”
The United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo early this month said Washington is paying close attention to elections proceedings in Uganda and warned against human rights violation.
In a tweet, Pompeo said Uganda was a long-standing partner and Washington expected its partners to hold free and fair elections.
“We are paying close attention to the actions of individuals who seek to impede the ongoing democratic process,” he said.
This was after the Democratic chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, and the most senior Republican on the panel, Michael McCaul, asked the U.S. government to punish seven top Ugandan security officials under the Global Magnitsky Act for their role in rights abuses, saying the country is sliding toward authoritarianism.
Uganda is due to hold a general election on January 14 in which incumbent, President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled since 1986, is seeking sixth term.
Washington is a major source of funding for Uganda’s military, supplying hardware, cash and training. It has given equipment and money.
Museveni has also received diplomatic support from Washington for deploying troops in international peacekeeping missions including the fight against militants in Somalia.
Meanwhile, leading opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, and his campaign team have been arrested in Kalangala in the country’s central region.
The arrests on Wednesday spurred protests at a field in Kalangala Island in Lake Victoria where a helicopter was parked and which Bobi Wine’s supporters said they believed would be used to fly him back to the capital Kampala.
Police fired tear gas at the crowd who were protesting.
“They are firing even now to disperse people gathering on roads,” a witness, who did not want to give his name for security reasons said
Joel Senyonyi, spokesman for Bobi Wine’s National Unity Platform party, said: “Yes police has arrested him together with his whole campaign team. They (police) put them in police trucks and started driving but we don’t know where they are taking them.”
Photographs from the scene showed Bobi Wine being escorted by at least 20 police officers, some armed with rifles.
Human rights advocates are sounding the alarm about what they see as a growing number of human rights abuses tied to the COVID-19 pandemic in Uganda.
They say, the novel coronavirus is being exploited as a pretext for oppression in Uganda
Bobi Wine too is accusing President Museveni of using the virus as an excuse to crack down on his opponents.
In a statement shortly after he was returned home, Bobi Wine wrote:
“Today yet again, Museveni’s regime of blood and national shame attacked us in Kalangala! As soon as we landed on the islands for our campaign, we found lots of military police, regular UPDF and police officers who were deployed to arrest us on arrival!
“As soon as we arrived, they started arresting our people one by one. All our security team members were arrested, then the media team, and then the team close to me, including Nubian Li, Dan Magic and Eddy Mutwe. Journalists too were arrested. Eventually, they also arrested me and pushed me into a ‘mobile prison’, which was teargassed! They drove me to a military chopper which was pre-arranged! These cowards separated me from my team and flew me to Kololo airstrip where the police put me in a police truck and drove me to Magere.
“Our legal team has already embarked on the process of securing freedom for our people!
While Museveni is campaigning, he is determined to block us from campaigning everywhere. How shameless! How cowardly! My message to all of you Ugandans is, let us all keep keeping on. Let us not give up. Let us keep praying. Let us keep working hard. The present trials and tribulations are preparing for us a massive victory against one of the world’s most brutal war-lords! Museveni will soon be history! Uganda will be free.”