Ugandan police arrested opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as singer Bobi Wine, on Wednesday as he campaigned for January's presidential election. The arrest came just an hour after police released a statement warning candidates against violating COVID-19 guidelines.
Chaos erupted as supporters of the National Unity Platform party gathered in the capital, Kampala, chanting Wine's name and setting fires. Police responded with tear gas and live bullets to disperse the crowds. One woman reportedly died after being shot in the head.
A radio station in eastern Uganda, Busoga One, was taken off the air for broadcasting Wine's arrest.
David Rubongoya, the National Unity Platform party secretary, told VOA that Wine was detained as he was entering Luuka district for the first campaign of the day.
"He was violently arrested and pepper sprayed and brutalized. He's being driven to an unknown destination in a military truck," Rubongoya said.
Police say processions and gatherings are not allowed under guidelines posted by the Ministry of Health and Electoral Commission to curb the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Edward Ochom, the assistant inspector general of police, also noted that authorities have repeatedly cautioned political groups against acts of civil disobedience, such as holding unauthorized campaign events, burning tires, deflating tires on police vehicles, and engaging in provocative behavior toward law enforcement personnel.
However, he said, such acts of defiance continue.
"We have, therefore, adopted a tougher approach to preserve the integrity of the electoral process," Ochom said. "We have dispatched our specialist teams and quick reaction teams to identify ringleaders, and principals for the apprehension in the face of crime. We have disseminated our comprehensive policing plan to all territorial commanders for them to implement without fear or favor."
Witnesses said a local journalist was beaten and pepper sprayed during Wine's arrest.
"Police turned violent and started beating up journalists," Abubaker Lubowa, a photographer with the Daily Monitor newspaper, told VOA. "There's a journalist who was on Bobi's vehicle, he was sprayed with pepper spray. And then, they wanted to arrest him, so, as journalists protested his arrest, they were beaten and roughed up."
The journalist was rushed to a hospital for medical attention. There has been no comment from authorities.
Wine was first arrested in 2018 and briefly detained last month when he registered as a presidential candidate. He is currently being held in Nalufenya prison in Jinja, a detention center previously notorious for torture of suspects.