A Ugandan pop star-turned-opposition lawmaker now can travel to the United States for treatment after alleged torture while in detention, authorities said late Friday, roughly a day after security forces blocked him from boarding a flight and set off a new round of protests in the capital.
“There is no hindrance at all,” police spokesman Emilian Kayima told The Associated Press. Another lawmaker blocked from traveling to India, however, was still being held.
The actions by security forces against Bobi Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, escalated a political dispute between the government of longtime President Yoweri Museveni and a youthful generation that fears he intends to rule for life after 32 years in power.
The drama began earlier this month when Ssentamu and several other lawmakers were charged with treason over an incident in which the president’s motorcade was pelted with stones.
Ssentamu had been stopped Thursday night while trying to board a U.S.-bound flight at the Entebbe airport and was checked into a hospital in the capital, Kampala, in a “worrying condition,” according to his lawyer, Asuman Basalirwa.
Authorities said a government medical board had to examine Ssentamu before any travel abroad because of the claims of torture, which security forces have denied.
Another lawyer for Ssentamu, Medard Sseggona, said it was not clear when he would leave for the U.S.
The 36-year-old singer was freed on bail on Monday but faced no travel restrictions after he and several other lawmakers were charged. His lawyers say the treason charges are false.
Ssentamu has emerged as a powerful opposition voice among youth 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.
Dozens of global musicians including Chris Martin, Angelique Kidjo and Brian Eno last week 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.
Another lawmaker who had been arrested but not charged, Francis Zaake, was barred from boarding a plane to India on Thursday. He was still being held in a hospital Friday night.
Both lawmakers earlier had been hospitalized with serious injuries they said they sustained at the hands of security forces during detention. The government denied it.
The treason charges have heightened concerns about a crackdown on the opposition in this East African nation.
“If a member of parliament can be treated like that, what of me who is on the street now?” asked one Kampala resident, Charles Ssenyange.
Security forces on Friday deployed heavily in Kampala’s Kamwokya neighborhood as police spokesman Kayima noted “some young men who wanted to cause commotion.”
The 74-year-old Museveni, a close U.S. security ally, has held power since 1986. He has spoken in recent days about “unprincipled politicians taking advantage of our unemployed youth to lure them into riots and demonstrations.”