All Uganda opposition politicians arrested in the capital Kampala on Thursday were freed unconditionally, apart from six people accused of assaulting a police officer.
The politicians had been arrested after a planned rally by Activists for Change (A4C) at Katwe Freedom Square. The police quashed the planned meeting, arrested several opposition politicians without charge, and detained them for more than six hours.
A police spokesperson in a statement on Thursday referred to the politicians’ arrest as “preventive” and admitted that at the time they were picked, they had not committed any crime.
One of those detained was Dr. Kizza Besigye, the president of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) party. He said he was not surprised by the events that led to his arrest. “Certainly not,” he said, “though I am always not prepared for the level to which the police [force] is willing to disgrace itself.”
He said he was assaulted during his arrest. “Those who arrested me and drove me to a police station in the suburb of Kampala,” he asserted, “were all certainly high on some drugs, and their behavior was unexpected of members of a police force.”
Besigye described the police action as illegal although he doubted there were any legal remedies. “What they [police] are doing is not backed by any law,” he said, “It is a clear case of abuse of power, and a blatant violation of rights of people with different political views from the people in government.”
He dismissed the police assertion that they held him under preventive arrest. The law proving for preventive arrest is very clear, he said: “It is meant for people who are mentally disturbed, or sick that may hurt themselves.”
The opposition leader vowed to continue participating in peaceful protests. The reason for the government crackdown on opponents, he added, “is because they are under some siege mentality. They know they are illegitimate, and the population is fed up and discontented.”
Besigye said there is nothing the police can do that will change the people’s views about the government. “People will continue protesting and at some stage the forces they are using to harass us will also protest against them,” he said, “and that will be the last straw that will break their back.”
“The discontent is across the board,” he added, “It is across all sections of society; it is only a tiny click of people who are engaged in mega corruption that is going on and [those] who are higher up in the security forces that are beneficiaries of the system.”
The only change, Besigye said, is that “people have become more bold (sic) and are willing to come out and protest against the regime.”
He predicted more linkages between social groups that will make the protests more coherent and national.
Yoweri Museveni, Uganda's leader for the past 25 years, has vowed to crack down on the protests.
Last year, his government tried to suppress demonstrations against surging prices. Besigye was arrested several times during violent clashes between the security forces and his supporters.