By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA (Reuters) – Ugandan security forces have arrested 40 people during an operation against supporters of opposition leader Bobi Wine whose detention under house arrest the United States said demonstrated eroding democracy in the East African country.
The 40 were held in the capital Kampala and elsewhere as authorities thwarted plans to hold what the opposition had described as a million-strong march on Thursday.
The march was supposed to have begun at Entebbe International Airport, south of the capital, where Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known as Bobi Wine, arrived from abroad.
Wine was instead bundled into a vehicle and driven home where he has said he is under house arrest.
Police arrested 40 suspects including a lawmaker “for inciting violence”, they said in a statement on Friday.
“These suspects will face charges in court as operations continue,” the statement said.
Wine said in a post on X hundreds of his supporters, including leaders of his National Unity Platform (NUP) party, had been detained across the country and demanded their release.
Wine, a pop star-turned-politician, lost to veteran leader Yoweri Museveni, 79, in the last presidential election in 2021. But he said there had been state-orchestrated violence and widespread vote rigging, accusations the government rejected.
In recent years he has emerged as the most formidable threat to Museveni, who has ruled Uganda for 37 years.
Last year, Human Rights Watch accused security forces of detaining hundreds of Wine’s supporters and subjecting them to a range of abuses including rape, beatings, electrocution and being injected with unknown substances.
At the time, spokespeople for the police and military said torture was not tolerated, with culprits prosecuted when caught. The government denies cracking down on Wine’s supporters.
In a post on X on Thursday, the U.S. Bureau of African Affairs said Wine’s detention reflected deteriorating democracy.
“Harassment of opposition voices and human rights abuses damage prospects for Ugandan progress and its partnership with the international community,” it said.
(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa and Nick Macfie)