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Ugandan Presidential Candidate Discusses Protests Following His Arrest

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Bobi Wine is running for president, and there's blood in the streets of Uganda. Mr. Wine is the activist and singer who's running against President Yoweri Museveni, who's been in power since 1986. Authorities arrested Bobi Wine on Wednesday. His supporters protested, and police responded brutally. The BBC and local press say that dozens of people have been killed. Bobi Wine has just been released after several days in detention and joins us. Mr. Wine, thanks so much for being with us again.

BOBI WINE: Thank you very much, Scott, for having me, and greetings to all the listeners.

SIMON: How are you doing?

WINE: Well, I'm still alive. That's all I can say.

SIMON: How were you and your supporters treated in prison?

WINE: Well, we were beaten and pepper-sprayed and locked up. We were not allowed any access to our lawyers, our families or our doctors.

SIMON: The government says you were arrested for breaking COVID-19 laws by holding a political rally. Is that how you see it?

WINE: Well, I must say that COVID-19 has been weaponized to be used against the opposition and, in particular, the biggest threat of President Museveni's 34-year-old grip on power. While President Museveni goes around the country holding processions and holding big rallies, he is not allowing us to reach out to the people. If they knew that I was holding my campaign meeting, I was led there by the police.

SIMON: You say police led you to the scene of this rally. Do you think they - you were set up?

WINE: Well, I know that Museveni is so scared of the support that we have, the support that I, personally, have. He has been challenged so much because wherever he goes, he has to pay young men and women to put on T-shirts and put an image of support. And fortunately on this side, wherever I show up, masses and masses of young people show up following us. And these people are being tear-gassed and targeted with live bullets.

SIMON: The BBC and independent local journalists say that a number of your supporters were apparently killed by government forces who fired into the crowd. Do you have a message for your supporters at this moment?

WINE: First of all, I send condolences to the families that have lost loved ones. I've been informed as soon as I was out of jail that more than 37 young men and women were shot and killed in cold blood by the regime forces. But also, I'm aware that more than 58 are in critical conditions in different hospitals across the country while more than 500 have been arrested and detained. We stand in solidarity with them, and we continue to call upon them to be nonviolent, but to be assertive and to remember that oppressed people cannot be oppressed forever. We shall soon break free from the shackles of oppression.

SIMON: The election is January 14. Do you worry about what could happen between now and then?

WINE: Yes and no. No, I don't worry because I'm sure we will win this election. Yes, I'm worried because I know that Museveni prides himself in rigging elections, and this may not be an exception. That is why I call upon all Ugandans to go out there and vote but also call upon the international community and international media to keep their eyes on the people of Uganda because this seems to be our last shot at liberation. Remember; since Independence Day in 1962, Uganda has never had a peaceful transfer of power from one leader to another. That is what we long for, and that is what we are sure we're going to get if the entire world stands with the people of Uganda.

SIMON: Activist and musician Bobi Wine, who is continuing his campaign for president in Uganda. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Wine.

WINE: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.