Africa: Beating of Jailed Ugandan Pop Star Condemned By Top Musicians

Ugandan MP Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu aka Bobi Wine appeared in a military court in Gulu. Those charges were dropped, but he was rearrested and then appeared in a civil court.

Music artists including Angelique Kidjo and Chris Martin have condemned the brutal treatment of jailed Ugandan pop star Bobi Wine. The singer-turned-lawmaker was arrested and charged with illegal possession of weapons.

A hundred musicians, artists, activists and politicians signed an open letter condemning the treatment of Ugandan pop star-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, also known as Bobi Wine.

Ssentamu, 36, who was arrested and charged earlier this month with illegally possessing firearms, was in "a lot of pain" after being beaten while in custody, Jacob Oulanyah, the deputy speaker of Uganda's parliament, said Wednesday.

"This should not have happened," Oulanyah said of the beating. "It was not necessary, but it happened."

Coldplay singer Chris Martin, The Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde, Damon Albarn of Blur and Angelique Kidjo were among those to "strongly condemn the arrest, imprisonment and vicious, life-threatening physical attack by Ugandan government forces" on Ssentamu.

"We call upon the Ugandan government to ensure his full access to medical treatment, to allow a full impartial investigation of his violent arrest and imprisonment," the letter read.

Ssentamu is expected to appear in a military court on Thursday.

The government denies accusations that it tortured Ssentamu, an outspoken critic of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. The military released a video on Wednesday of the former pop star smiling and in good health during a visit by Oulanyah.

The deputy speaker told reporters that, despite being in pain, Ssentamu was in a "humorous" mood during the visit.

Ssentamu, who won a parliament seat last year, has not been seen in public since August 13, when he was campaigning in an election to choose a lawmaker in the northwestern town of Arua. Museveni was also in Aura at the time, campaigning for a rival candidate who eventually lost.

Ssentamu was detained with four other opposition lawmakers, three of whom face treason charges. A fifth lawmaker, Francis Zaake, is in hospital with injuries he allegedly sustained during his arrest.

Uganda outcry

The arrest of the popular MP has angered many in Uganda. Street protests demanding Ssentamu's release erupted in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.

Security forces have violently put down these protests, with local broadcasters releasing video on Monday of men in military uniforms beating people up, including two journalists. On Wednesday, other riots in the eastern town of Jinja, on Lake Victoria, were reported.

Also on Wednesday, hundreds attended a special Mass in Uganda's main Roman Catholic cathedral to pray for Ssentamu's safe release, with people outside chanting his campaign slogan, "People power, our power."

"He isn't supposed to be locked up. He's supposed to be in hospital," Ssentamu's wife told the gathering.

Religious leaders have condemned the violence "in which lives are lost, people are barbarically arrested and tortured and property destroyed."

Popular singer turned popular lawmaker

The treatment of the former singer has become a hot topic for youthful opposition to the long rule of Museveni. In a statement late Wednesday, the Ugandan president accused "unprincipled politicians" of luring youth into rioting."

Museveni said he had no power to release Ssentamu. "Let us therefore wait for the courts and see what they decide."

Museveni, 74, seized power by force in the eastern African country in 1986. He has since been elected five times and is now able to seek re-election in 2021 because parliament passed legislation last year removing a clause in the constitution that had prevented anyone over 75 from holding the presidency.

Ssentamu publically opposed that decision and has been one of Museveni's chief critics. He has quickly become popular with Uganda's mostly young population, successfully campaigning for candidates who have defeated both ruling and established opposition parties. Some of his supporters are pushing for him to run for president in 2021.

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