Ugandan police fired tear gas and arrested more than 30 opposition supporters attending a Friday prayer rally organized by musician-turned-politician Bobi Wine. Police say the meeting was illegal as organizers failed to inform the chief of police before holding it.
Uganda police have confirmed the arrests of at least 30 members of Bobi Wine’s opposition party while at a prayer meeting organized by the umbrella group, the United Forces of Change.
Those gathered were set to pray for people arrested, dead, abducted and all opposition supporters, especially from Wine’s National Unity Platform, whose whereabouts are still unknown in the past two years.
Other opposition members included the Conservative Party and the Forum for Democratic Change.
But Lucas Owoyesigyire, the deputy spokesperson for the Kampala Metropolitan Police, told VOA by phone that the opposition group did not give the Inspector General of Police Okoth Ochola advance notice about the prayer meeting so he could set up security for it due to ongoing terrorism threats.
"This was a public place," said Owoyesigyire, "and they ought to have informed the IGP — especially the owners of the venue — should have informed the IGP about this. So, we could not allow them to go ahead with this."
Owoyesigyire added that "we have some suspects here, at CPS [Central Police Station] but they are more than 30.”
Ugandan politician Joel Ssenyonyi told VOA that they had paid for the venue but upon their arrival Friday morning, the police and army had cordoned off the venue forcing them to pray from outside.
“When we got there, we saw one of the guys who had the most peeps," said Ssenyonyi. "We requested him, please come and speak to us. He refused to come. Because we were at the gate, they couldn’t let us in. The law says notify...the law does not say ask for permission. We informed them and asked them to provide security for our function to go on undisturbed because we were going to be indoors.”
In the past two years, especially before the 2021 general elections, a number of opposition supporters have been bundled into vans and taken to both known and unknown detention centers.
While many have returned maimed, claiming torture, many others are suspected to either have died or still be in detention. The opposition said it has provided those names several times to parliament, asserting they are being held by security and demanding in vain that the government provide an explanation.
To date, the abductions continue — including a 17-year-old boy picked up from his place of work as he peeled potatoes.
Speaking to VOA, the boy's mother, Nambazira Sauda, recalled that on November 5, a friend of her son told her about her son's disappearance. Since then, Sauda said she has checked all known detention centers without success and fears her son may be dead.
“They say when a child is dying, a mother gets birth pangs," she said. "I go to the bathroom all the time, I don’t eat, I don’t drink, I lose my senses. When I start moving, I find myself coming out from another direction."
"My son is young," she said. "They should come and kill me instead."
President Yoweri Museveni has in recent months stated he is not aware of any abductions going on in the country. He also maintains that mistakes by security personnel while on duty are being corrected.
It is still not clear exactly how many members of the opposition group are either dead or in detention.