Two days after his most recent arrest on trumped up charges for staging an allegedly unlawful demonstration last year, opposition MP Bobi Wine has been released on bail.
What lies in store for the future of Bobi Wine’s public and private lives in President Museveni’s Uganda?
Speaking with BBC presenter Julian Worricker on Thursday’s episode of The World Tonight, Bobi Wine’s lawyer, Robert Amsterdam, explores the implications of Bobi Wine’s latest experiences.
[28:23] Julian Worricker: “Bobi Wine is a Uganda pop star who was elected to parliament in a by-election last year and has made no secret of his opposition to the country’s veteran leader, Yoweri Museveni. He’s been in jail for the last two days on charges of staging an unlawful protests, but today he’s been freed on bail. When they heard the announcement, his supporters literally sang his praise.”
[28:34 | Audio Clip]
[29:08] Julian Worricker: “Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has fallen foul of the authorities before, after he championed a demonstration against taxes on social media usage in Uganda. He says he’s being persecuted under the guise of prosecution because the authorities are worried about his political ambitions. He wants to challenge Mr. Museveni for the presidency when the next elections are held in 2021. Mr. Museveni has been in power since 1986.
Robert Amsterdam is Bobi Wine’s lawyer, I asked him what he made of today’s events.”
[29:41] Robert Amsterdam:”These charges are bogus, they relate to an attempt by the government, which has been successful, to limit Internet access to its population. This is on the heels of his earlier treason charges for campaigning in Arua, and they are part of a series of charges that are meant to really destabilize the opposition in anticipation of Bobi perhaps running for president in the next election.”
[30:11] Julian Worricker: “The magistrate told him in granting him bail that he would be returned to jail if he engaged in what she described as unlawful demonstrations while free, so I wonder what your advice to him would be in that specific context?”
[30:25] Robert Amsterdam: “In a situation where you have a government behaving ‘extra-legally’ in an attempt to limit your rights to speak out and to limit your voice, my advice to him is to make the government obey the law. In other words, not be intimidated by this abuse of law, but stand on his constitutional rights, which is what his intent is.”
[30:54] Julian Worrick: “In the short term though, realistically, that could mean him going back to jail, couldn’t it?”
[30:59] Robert Amsterdam: “Listen, it’s very possible. The government attempted to assassinate him less than a year ago and then they engaged in a ruinous pattern of torture and abuse. We in the West close our eyes to the brutality of Uganda because our politicians believe it’s an element of stability in the region, when in fact Uganda is incredibly irresponsible and destabilizing in East Africa.”
[31:24] Julian Worrick: “You referred to the charges that he faced which led to this jailing – several offenses, the authorities say, stemming from his championing a demonstration against taxes on social media usage last year. Break that down for us, what’s your take on those charges and what they signify?”
[31:45] Robert Amsterdam: “It’s really an attempt to disenfranchise from information the people who are the most economically disadvantaged, and […]”
[31:53] Julian Worrick: “Because the tax looks like a small from outside, but your argument would be that it’s a lot of money to people who are poor in Uganda?”
[32:00] Robert Amsterdam: “Well indeed, and we need to remember, 80% of the population is under 35 years of age, and of that the majority are unemployed, so yes this a massive sum to people who are trying to put food on their plates in shanty-towns. Yes, it’s a lot of money.”
[32:15] Julian Worrick: “Chart a course through the next few weeks and months for Bobi Wine. How do you see this developing from here?”
[32:22] Robert Amsterdam: “Well, you know, let’s be clear, when you’re dealing with governments that don’t obey the law, the very words ‘charting the course’ become impossible to discuss because we’re dealing with people who are acting on emotion. They’re acting out of fear. They’re acting out of the particular fear of an aging leadership with no organized succession in a country that pretends to be a democracy.
Museveni is elderly, unpopular, and has been engaged in vicious repression and torture of his opponents. And it is impossible for me to chart a course for an individual like Bobi Wine who is not only wildly charismatic and loved by his people, but incredibly heroic.
To have gone back to Uganda after they attempted to murder him – and murdered his driver who was sitting in his place in the car – and tortured him and then immediately after receiving medical treatment in Washington, flew back to Uganda to face these same torturers again.”
[33:31] Julian Worrick: “Robert Amsterdam, Bobi Wine’s lawyer.”
[33:34 | End Interview]