KAMPALA – A judge ruled on Monday that Ugandan security forces cannot detain presidential challenger Bobi Wine inside his home, rebuking authorities for holding the candidate under house arrest following a disputed election.
Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, has been unable to leave his home since Jan. 14, when Ugandans voted in an election in which the singer-turned-politician was the main challenger to President Yoweri Museveni. Ugandan authorities have said Wine can only leave his home on the outskirts of the capital, Kampala, under military escort because they fear his presence in public could incite rioting.
But the judge said in his ruling that Wine's home is not a proper detention facility and noted that authorities should criminally charge him if he threatens public order.
The U.S. Embassy in a Twitter post said the judge's ruling “underscores the role of an impartial judiciary,” adding that Washington “calls on security forces to honor the decision.”
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “It’s very important that the security forces do show restraint and also obey ... the order."
Wine’s associates welcomed the courtroom victory, but it remains to be seen if authorities will respect the judge’s order in this East African country where similar orders have been ignored in many cases.
Ugandan police told reporters on Monday that they would pull away from Wine’s residence but keep surveilling the area. But Wine said hours after the court's decision that soldiers still surrounded his home, “blocking access to all.”
“Perhaps (as always) waiting for Gen. Museveni's orders on the next course of action,” he tweeted.
Museveni won the election with 58% of the vote while Wine had 34%, according to official results. Wine insists he won and has said he can prove that the military was stuffing ballot boxes, casting ballots for people and chasing voters away from polling stations.
Wine has accused Museveni of staging a “coup” in last week’s election and is urging his supporters to protest his loss through nonviolent means. But he suggested in a statement Friday he might not go to court to challenge the official results because of concerns a possible loss there would validate Museveni’s win. He said he would announce a decision “in a few days.”
Despite failing in his bid to unseat Museveni, the 38-year-old Wine has emerged as the country’s most powerful opposition figure. He is set to name the official leader of the opposition in the National Assembly after his National Unity Platform party won at least 56 seats, the most of any opposition group in the legislative body. That number could rise to 61 when final results are announced.
Museveni's National Resistance Movement party has more than 300 seats, an absolute majority that allows it to move ahead with his agenda without negotiating with the opposition.
Museveni, 76, has dismissed allegations of vote-rigging, calling the election “the most cheating-free” since independence from Britain in 1962.
Uganda’s election was marred by violence ahead of polling day as well as an internet shutdown that remained in force until four days after the election. Social media sites remain restricted.
Uganda has never witnessed a peaceful transfer of power — one reason why even some within Museveni's party urge him to preside over an orderly transition.