Rights Activists Demand Release of Arrested Ugandan Opposition Leader

Ugandan opposition politicians and rights groups are calling for the release of opposition party president Joseph Kabuleta, who was arrested Monday by security forces.

Kabuleta’s party is demanding an explanation for his arrest, which they likened to an abduction. Ugandan police accused him of promoting sectarianism, while Human Rights Watch accused authorities of muzzling government critics. 

A video circulating on social media Monday afternoon showed six men walking into an office in which Kabuleta was meeting with two people. One of the men moved to grab Kabuleta’s phone, and two others grabbed him by his hands before he is whisked away in a black van. 

Kabuleta, who heads the National Economic Empowerment Dialogue party, has been critical of government policies. This includes what he has called “poor service delivery” to different parts of the country. 

Kabuleta’s lawyer, Ivan Bwowe, speaking to VOA by phone, described the incident as “fishy” and said a full day passed without police revealing where Kabuleta had been taken.  

Bwowe told VOA that at 2:39 p.m. Tuesday, party leaders received a call from police informing them of Kabuleta’s whereabouts. 

“After a lot of pressure, police authorities, they have just informed us that he is at Kira division police. And, right there, the police authorities have made instructions that he should be allowed to access his lawyers, doctor, and also the family members. But that has been a struggle on its own,” Bwowe said. 

The police say they are holding Kabuleta on charges of promoting sectarianism based on statements he made that service delivery in some parts of the country were based on ethnic lines.   

The police say the statements, made on May 30, are likely to create alienation, raise discontent, and promote feelings of ill will or hostility among members of the public. 

Shortly before his arrest, Kabuleta held a news conference in which he called on President Yoweri Museveni to treat the ongoing insecurity in the country very seriously. 

This was in relation to recent attacks on police stations and an army installation in which guns were stolen and security officers killed and injured. 

Kabuleta also condemned the killing of suspects who had information regarding the attacks. 

Orem Nyeko, an East Africa researcher for rights group Human Rights Watch, said it was wrong for the police to arrest Kabuleta because of his criticism. 

The government must stop restricting freedom of expression, he said, adding, “Especially for people who are critical of how the government operates. People should be allowed to talk freely. Especially when it’s about issues of how they are governed and to do that it is just increasingly closing in Uganda.” 

Bwowe accused Ugandan authorities of torturing dissenters and holding people incommunicado.  

“We condemn of course these actions,” Bwowe said. “They are barbaric. They are not for the 21st century, and authorities should reconsider their methods of operation.” 

Also Monday, Muslim cleric Yahya Mwanje was picked up in an unmarked van in Kampala and whisked off to an unknown location. There has been no police report on why he was arrested. 

 

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