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Uganda Police Arrest Musician-Opposition Lawmaker 'Bobi Wine'

FILE - Ugandan musician-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, holds a news conference at his home near Kampala, Sept. 24, 2018.

Ugandan musician-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi, better known by his stage name Bobi Wine, has called for peaceful demonstrations after police on Tuesday refused to allow him to leave his home.

On a Facebook post Tuesday, Kyagulanyi wrote that his home in Wakiso district, near the capital of Kampala, “is under siege. [Police] have surrounded my fence and installed barricades on all roads leading to my home.”

Kyagulanyi said that he had been headed to police headquarters to give notice of a “planned peaceful demonstration against police brutality, injustice and misuse of authority” but that he and his laywers “were blocked from delivering the letter and were ordered to leave or face arrest.” In response, his post urged defiance: “We shall go ahead and demonstrate peacefully as guaranteed by the constitution. This is our country.”

His post did not specify a time or location for any demonstration.

Kyagulanyi's movement curbed

On Tuesday, police were heavily deployed on roads around Kyagulanyi’s house and all vehicles leaving his compound were thoroughly checked.

Police had detained Kyagulanyi on Monday at a beach resort near Kampala, where he addressed supporters and was to hold a concert. Police used teargas and water cannons to disperse his supporters and then took the opposition politician to his home.

Kyagulanyi had told VOA earlier Tuesday that he was not informed of his house arrest. When he walked to his gate to go to police headquarters, he was stopped by the district police commander.

This led to an exchange between Kyagulanyi’s lawyer, Benjamin Katana, and police officer Jaffer Magyezi.

"My orders are: Either you go back to your house or you will be under arrest," the officer said.

"Is he under arrest now?" Katana asked about his client. "Because for someone’s movement to be restricted, he must be under arrest or quarantined. So is he under quarantine or he’s under house arrest?"

The officer responded to the musician: "Yesterday, you incited violence, of which you know you were charged."

Kyagulanyi told supporters Monday that he had written to police three months in advance for permission to hold Sunday’s concert. He said Ugandan police have blocked 124 of his concerts since October 2017, acting on orders of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, "because he does not like what I sing. He wanted me to be like some other artists to be singing his praises."

A show of strength?

Political analyst Muwanga Kivumbi says putting Kyagulanyi under house arrest sends Museveni’s message to Uganda that he controls the state.

“ ‘I have the guns, am in control of police and prisons and all these things. I’ll use them to leverage my position,’” Kivumbi said, imagining the president’s thinking. “The people of Uganda are saying, ‘Wait, you made the law.’ Actually, we are being so fair to the president that we are only telling him, be obedient to the law you attested to.”

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement on social media Tuesday questioning why Uganda’s government "has recently blocked musical concerts and radio talk shows, disrupted peaceful demonstrations and rallies, and deployed heavy-handed security forces against peaceful citizens."

The embassy noted that Uganda's constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and expression.

Ugandan government spokesman Ofwono Opondo responded in a Facebook post that his government "respects rule of law and constitutionalism which guarantees freedom of assembly, expression and movement." He said the government "expects all leaders to abide by these standards. …"

Alluding to Kyagulanyi, Opondo continued: "Save for one artiste [sic], all artistes in Uganda enjoy freedom of performance. …"

VOA English to Africa Service's James Butty contributed to this report.