Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine was charged on Friday with flouting rules about Covid-19 and freed on bail. His detention this week, following an election campaign rally, sparked violence in Kampala and other towns, as some of his supporters protested and security forces responded with a crackdown leaving 37 people dead.
Judiciary spokesperson Solomon Muyita said Wine was charged with “doing an act likely to spread infectious diseases”, the AFP news agency reported.
At least 37 people died in violence and hundreds were arrested, according to Moses Byaruhanga, the police health director, according to AFP.
Byaruhanga said people died from wounds and suffocation, while police spokesperson Fred Enanga said the demonstrations were not spontaneous, but part of “coordinated campaign”. Enanga said the police had recovered bows and arrows.
Wine, who’s real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was arrested on Wednesday, prompting clashes between his supporters and the police. Protestors burnt tyres, set up makeshift barricades and threw rocks, while the security forces responded with rubber bullets and live rounds.
Videos circulating on social media depicted chaotic scenes with some members of the security forces shooting indiscriminately. Other footage shows men in plain clothes wielding guns alongside police.
“The increasing spate of violence so early in the campaign season does not bode well for the weeks to come before the elections,” said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, a US-based rights watchdog.
Nyeko said the Ugandan authorities were using the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to crack down on the opposition.
Wine, who has garnered considerable support amongst the Ugandan youth, has been arrested by the authorities several times.
He has emerged as a threat to 76-year-old incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, who is hoping to extend his 34-year rule.
Uganda goes to the polls on 14 January for presidential and parliamentary elections.