Ugandan soldiers beat up pop star-turned-lawmaker Bobi Wine and squeezed his genitals until he passed out, he charged on Monday, three days after he departed for the United States for medical care for the injuries he allegedly sustained while in detention.
Soldiers “violated me as if they were beasts,” said Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, in his first public statement since his arrest on Aug. 14 for his alleged role in an incident in which the president’s motorcade was pelted with stones.
“They wrapped me in a thick piece of cloth and bundled me into a vehicle,” he said. “Those guys did to me unspeakable things in that vehicle! They pulled my manhood and squeezed my testicles while punching me with objects I didn’t see.”
A doctor later told him that one of his “kidneys … had been damaged during the assault.”
Ssentamu’s driver was killed in the violence the followed the alleged attack on the president’s convoy, allegedly by government forces. Ssentamu said he believes he survived an assassination attempt.
The allegations of torture will increase pressure on the government to arrest the alleged perpetrators. Rights groups and the speaker of Uganda’s parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, have urged President Yoweri Museveni to arrest the suspects and present them in court.
Museveni, who has accused Ssentamu and other opposition politicians of luring young people into rioting, has recently told lawmakers with the ruling party that Ssentamu and his co-accused had resisted arrest and even assaulted some officers, forcing security personnel to use force, according to multiple accounts in the local media.
The military has denied the allegations of torture.
According to Ssentamu, after he regained consciousness, two soldiers who came to see him “were visibly pleased to see that I was still alive. They came close to me. One of them apologized in tears about what had happened.”
His feet and hands had been tied together and he bled from the nose and ears, he said.
Ssentamu and over 30 others, including four other lawmakers, have been charged with treason over their roles in the attack on the president’s convoy, heightening concerns about a crackdown on the opposition in this East African nation.
One of those lawmakers, Francis Zaake, has also been hospitalized with serious injuries allegedly sustained at the hands of security forces during detention. He is due to travel to India to receive specialized care.
In Uganda the maximum penalty for treason is death.
Their lawyers say the treason charge is false.
Ssentamu has emerged as a powerful opposition voice among youths frustrated by Museveni, especially after the constitution was changed last year to remove an age limit on the presidency. The singer won a parliament seat last year without the backing of a political party.
His supporters, citing his success in helping opposition candidates to win elections across the country, are urging him to run for president in 2021.
His arrest sparked protests in Kampala and elsewhere demanding his release, with scores of people detained, and a social media campaign to #FreeBobiWine was launched.
Dozens of global musicians including Chris Martin, Angelique Kidjo and Brian Eno issued an open letter condemning the treatment of Ssentamu, who in his first public appearance after his arrest had to walk with support and appeared to cry.
Museveni, a U.S. regional security ally who took power by force in 1986, has been elected five times. Although he has campaigned on a record of establishing stability, some worry those gains are being eroded the longer he stays in power.
Museveni 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 publicly opposed that decision.