PEN America Condemns Siege Around Ugandan Opposition Leader’s Home
Singer-turned-politician Bobi Wine has been trapped in his home since last week's disputed election
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(New York, NY) – PEN America is deeply alarmed by reports that Ugandan musician and opposition leader Bobi Wine’s house has been surrounded by military and police in the days following national elections criticized by many as rigged in favor of sitting president Yoweri Museveni.
Wine, who reached international prominence as a singer before turning to politics, had become the foremost leader in an opposition challenge to Museveni’s nearly four-decade-long tenure in power. The election campaign was marred by widespread allegations of fraud and government crackdowns on both Wine and other opposition figures; more than 50 protestors reportedly died at hands of police during ensuing demonstrations. After the election on January 14, Wine reported that military and police officers had broken into his compound, where he remains surrounded and allegedly fears for his life and the life of his wife. An internet and social media blackout put in place just before the election continues today.
“Placing Bobi Wine under military house arrest is just the latest iteration of a protracted and concerted effort by Ugandan authorities to silence his outspoken voice that began when he was a popular singer,” said Julie Trebault, director of the Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) of PEN America. “Wine captivated his nation with his music and used his songs as a platform to call for a more just Uganda. That the military laid siege to his home before the results of a likely rigged election were even fully released goes to show the extent to which President Museveni fears dissenting voices like Wine’s for their ability to speak truths and foment social change. We wholeheartedly condemn Museveni’s scare tactics, call for Wine’s unencumbered freedom, and demand an end to the internet shutdown meant to stem the flow of information. It is essential that the international community not turn away from what is happening in Uganda. This repression is unacceptable and must stop.”
Wine is no stranger to government harassment. Under Museveni, his concerts have been banned, he’s been arrested and beaten, and he has seen his own fans attacked and tear gassed as a result of the president’s view of Wine as an “enemy of progress in Uganda.” Although freedom of expression is a constitutional right in Uganda, Wine’s persecution comes amid an increasingly hostile climate for artists and activists in the country. In September, novelist and journalist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was arrested for the second time in 2020 for writings critical of President Museveni, and in March, filmmaker and journalist Bwayo Moses was arrested for directing a Bobi Wine music video.
PEN America leads the Artists at Risk Connection, a program dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC here.