A letter from the British High Commission to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announcing a withdrawal from a charity run in Kampala ruffled feathers at the ministry.
Some wondered why the British High Commission was getting concerned about the continued detention of Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, and how it has anything to do with the cancer run which was held last weekend.
Kyagulanyi a.k.a Bobi Wine was brutally arrested two weeks ago in the West Nile town of Arua where he had gone to campaign for the Arua Municipality MP-elect Kassiano Wadri.
Wadri himself has been in jail with at least 30 others plus MPs; Paul Mwiru (Jinja Municipality East), Gerald Karuhanga (Ntungamo Municipality) and former Makindye East MP Michael Mabikke. Their Mityana Municipality colleague Francis Zaake Butebi is hospitalised at Lubaga hospital in critical condition.
The arrests resulted into demonstrations in different parts of the country, which claimed the lives of at least four people who were shot by security forces. Bobi Wine, fellow MPs and others were released on bail on Monday.
The British threat came after the US embassy and the European Union had issued strong statements, urging the government to show the world that the country respects its Constitution and the human rights of all its citizens.
“We are deeply concerned by recent events in Arua, Kampala, and Gulu, and disturbed by reports of brutal treatment of Members of Parliament, journalists, and others at the hands of security forces,” the statement by the US embassy partly reads.
The embassies were joined by international human rights organisations in condemning the actions of state security agencies in brutalizing MPs, journalists and opposition supporters. For instance, Amnesty International, a UK-based human rights organisation, demanded for answers on how Bobi Wine’s driver, Yasin Kawuma was shot and killed.
The international condemnation was followed by protests around the world and an international appeal spearheaded by Amsterdam & Partners LLP, an international law firm based in London UK and Washington DC in the USA.
Last week, Simon Wolfe, a senior associate with the law firm told BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that Amsterdam & Partners LLP is preparing international law suits against the government of Uganda as well as petitioning the international community to slap sanctions against key individuals in government.
On Twitter, Wolfe launched an appeal to raise funds to offer legal representation for the Kyadondo East legislator.
“Please help Bobi and #freebobiwine from State oppression, torture and denial of basic human rights. Uganda wants to take that away from him, his family and his friends. We will not rest until he’s free,” Wolfe tweeted.
Wolfe’s partner, Robert Amsterdam on the other hand authored an article which was published by The Guardian under a title, ‘Uganda’s brutal treatment of MPs is enabled by global indifference’.
The article angered the Ugandan authorities so much that Amsterdam was denied entry into the country.
“I have already been banned entry [into] Uganda over #FreeBobiWine but our role in terms of international advocacy shall continue as before,” Amsterdam tweeted on Monday.
Wolfe responded in a tweet “What a petulant response from a frightened government. It won’t affect our work in the slightest.”
Rattled, Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kahamba Kutesa on August 24 convened a meeting with foreign envoys in Kampala to protest what he called unfair criticism based on media reports.
“They were unnecessarily harsh on government, they never bother to investigate what the cause of all this is; they were quoting social media pictures which can easily be manipulated,” government spokesman Ofwono Opondo told The Observer on August 25.
According to Opondo, government believes that the demos around the world were facilitated by western governments.
“We think that the demonstrations around the world have some elements of foreign sponsorship but for those who think that we do things for the sake of a good international image are mistaken,” Opondo said.
On August 24, the Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kagada was welcomed by similar protests in Amsterdam, Netherlands, where she had gone to preside over the second Uganda-Netherlands business convention.
Uganda’s ambassador to Belgium and Netherlands Mirjam Blaak organised a meeting for Kadaga to speak to the agitated Ugandans.
“We [Parliament] are monitoring the situation,” Kadaga told the meeting, “Hon [Medard Lubega] Sseggona is leading the legal team from Parliament to ensure that the members are well represented.”
Kadaga admitted that there was widespread discontentment over the manner in which MPs were arrested and handled. She also said that she had spoken to Bobi Wine on phone from Botswana to strengthen him.
Away from the global and local demos, President Museveni in his more than three decades rule had not received any direct condemnation from the Catholic Church and Buganda Kingdom over the arrest of politicians.
To the surprise of political analysts, the church on August 22 held a solidarity prayer mass for Bobi Wine and his colleagues less than a week after Buganda Katikkiro (Prime Minister) Charles Peter Mayiga issued a strong statement against the arrest and torture of the MPs and others.