Uganda's pop star MP rearrested seeking treatment abroad

Ugandan singer-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi's supporters say that he was badly beaten and tortured while in army custody

Ugandan singer-turned-politician Robert Kyagulanyi was holed up in a government hospital Friday after being rearrested while trying to leave for medical treatment in the United States, his lawyers said.

The 36-year-old reggae star -- better known as Bobi Wine -- became an MP in 2017, firing up a youthful population and becoming a sharp thorn in the side of ageing President Yoweri Museveni.

He was charged with treason last week after protesters stoned Museveni's car during a by-election campaign. His arrest sparked violent protests and international condemnation over his alleged torture.

After being released on bail on Monday, he was seized again by police on Thursday evening at Entebbe airport, outside the capital Kampala, his attorneys said.

"The Uganda Police have violently blocked Bobi Wine from travelling outside of the country in spite of the court declining to do so when being released on bail earlier in the week," said his Ugandan lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo. "This is absurd, to say the least."

At his bail hearing, the court had allowed Kyagulanyi to keep his passport, against the wishes of state prosecutors.

The MP's international lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, said: "Bobi Wine was fully within his rights to travel for medical treatment. Again, he has done nothing wrong. Again, he has broken no law. And again, the police beat him and detained him and will later make up some sort of false excuse."

Kyagulanyi's supporters say he was badly beaten and tortured while in army custody, during and after his arrest in the northwestern town of Arua earlier this month, and requires medical treatment abroad.

Opiyo accused authorities of wanting "to create their own medical records" to hide evidence of torture.

Hours earlier fellow lawmaker Francis Zaake, who is also accused of treason and, like Kyagulanyi, claims to have been assaulted in custody, was also blocked from leaving the country and arrested at the same airport.

After his rearrest, Kyagulanyi was taken to Kiruddu General Hospital, a government facility in Kampala.

Amsterdam said the singer had locked himself in a hospital room with his wife Barbie and was refusing access to army doctors.

"Bobi has... been told that he'll be taken to another location -- he doesn't know where. The doctor who oversaw Bobi's torture is part of the team trying to access him."

As residents of Kyagulanyi's home neighborhood of Kamwokya, a poor Kampala suburb, woke to the news of his nighttime arrest, demonstrators took to the streets and blocked roads, setting tyres alight.

The protest was short-lived, as soldiers and police officers wearing anti-riot gear swamped the area, quickly dispersing the crowd of youths.

By lunchtime, hundreds of motorcycle taxi drivers had converged on Kiseka Market in central Kampala, the site of repeated protests since Kyagulanyi was picked up on August 13.

But before any protest took place, soldiers wearing combat equipment, including helmets and body armour, deployed at a key intersection.

Passers-by fled as soldiers chased journalists away and searched the market.

- Challenge to Museveni -

Kyagulanyi, a tabloid sensation who sported dreadlocks and chanted lyrics about poverty and social justice, has become a lightning rod for youthful opposition to the 74-year-old president.

Museveni, who has held power since 1986, is expected to seek another term in 2021 after constitutional changes were passed last year to scrape age limits.

In this context, the brash former slum-dweller channels for many younger Ugandans their daily frustrations in a country led mostly by old men.

Wine's "age, his background and his story" make him a challenge unlike any Museveni has faced during his 32-year rule, said political analyst Rosebell Kagumire.

Many Ugandans credit Museveni with delivering a degree of stability after he came to power at the head of a rebel army, he said.

"Now the majority of Ugandans are young women, and they don't relate to Museveni's political message."

However, it is unclear what Kyagulanyi's political ambitions are come the next election, Kagumire said.

"He has not yet even said that he wants to stand for president but a lot of people expect that" he will do, said Kagumire.