Uganda police teargas, arrest opposition presidential candidate

Besigye flashes his trademark V-sign as he exits the police station

Besigye flashes his trademark V-sign as he exits the police station

Three days before the highly anticipated general election in Uganda, the police have briefly arrested the main opposition leader and 2016 presidential candidate Col. (Rtd) Kizza Besigye of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).

According to the police, Besigye, who has previously contested for the presidency three times, was held in police custody because he was “disrupting” traffic in the capital Kampala where he was holding a campaign rally.

Sources say the former personal doctor to president Yoweri Museveni was teargassed along with hundreds of his supports in the centre of Kampala, Besigye was pictured shielding his eyes from teargas as he confronted the police.

The Uganda police say Besigye was not arrested but briefly held to prevent chaos and disorder in Kampala and then escorted back to his home near Kampala.

The police spokesman Patrick Onyanyo said Besigye was “not under any form of arrest.”

His enthusiastic supporters however, dismissed police denials, and mistreatment of the leading opposition candidate.

“We protest in the strongest terms police brutality towards our supporters and targeting our candidate,” FDC spokesman Semujju Nganda told reporters.

“I appeal to my supporters to be calm. Let us remain firm and law abiding. We shall assert our rights,” Besigye said of his ordeal.

Ever since he fell out with Museveni more than a decade ago, Besigye has been arrested, detained, imprisoned and harassed several times by the country’s security forces.

Besigye's supporter take cover hiding from teargas and the police

Besigye’s supporter take cover hiding from teargas and the police

Prior to this latest arrest, Besigye was also arrested and detained in July last year, along with his fellow presidential hopeful Amama Mbabazi of Go Forward in what police termed “preventive arrest” to avoid public disorder.

President Museveni has maintained his rival is free to campaign but can not do so at the expense of public order.

“Besigye is free to campaign but he cannot be allowed to break the law with impunity, the police will continue doing its work without interference from anyone,” Museveni said

Today’s incident comes two days after the second and last live televised presidential debate in which Besigye, Museveni, Mbabazi and five other candidates argued their positions before millions of Ugandans ahead of Thursday’s election.

The candidates sparred on national and regional security, terrorism, trade, foreign relations and poverty and job creation among other issues.

As millions of voters prepare to head to the polls, the United States has warned the authorities in Uganda to desist from violence and ensure a peaceful and fair election exercise on this week.

“We strongly urge the government and electoral authorities to ensure a level playing field and transparent process, including through fair application of the law, so that all candidates have an equal opportunity to express their views and voters have the opportunity to hear them,” the US State Department said in a statement Monday.

Throughout this campaign season, Uganda police has drawn widespread condemnation and criticism for the way they are harassing political opposition.

Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued reports about police brutality in Uganda and appealed to the government to reign in the country’s security forces.