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Ugandan pop star-turned-politician freed on bail

Bobi Wine claims he was injured by severe beatings by security forces while he was in detention.

A Ugandan pop star-turned-government critic has been freed on bail following days of incarceration during which he alleged he was tortured.

Bobi Wine, whose real name is Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, was on crutches as he left the courthouse in the northern Ugandan town of Gulu on Monday.

The 36-year-old parliamentarian claims he was injured by severe beatings by security forces while he was in detention. He had been detained since August 14.

We are much stronger and greater in spirit than we were before Gerald Karuhanga, one of Ssentamu's co-accused

A judge freed him alongside others who are similarly charged with treason for their alleged roles in an incident in which President Yoweri Museveni’s motorcade was pelted with stones.

Scores of his supporters outside the courtroom cheered when he came out of the courthouse. They chanted “People power! Our power!”, a slogan popularized by Ssentamu.

“We are much stronger and greater in spirit than we were before,” Gerald Karuhanga, one of Ssentamu’s co-accused, told local broadcaster NTV after being freed.

Ssentamu was initially charged before a military court with illegal possession of firearms and ammunition. On Thursday those charges were withdrawn and he was immediately re-arrested and charged before a magistrate with the more serious offence of treason.

Ssentamu’s arrest came after he was campaigning on August 13 in an election to choose an MP in the north-western town of Arua.

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The pop star-turned-politician claims he was beaten while in detention (AP Photo)

Mr Museveni was also in Arua at the time, campaigning for a rival candidate who eventually lost.

While the president was departing, authorities said his motorcade was pelted with stones by people believed to be supporters of Ssentamu and the candidate he backed, Kassiano Wadri.

Ssentamu’s driver was shot and killed that evening, allegedly by security forces.

Authorities have been under pressure to free Ssentamu, who is challenging the long rule of Mr Museveni by appealing to young people who despair over the lack of jobs and other opportunities.

His supporters, citing his success in helping opposition candidates to win elections across the country, are urging him to run for president in 2021.

The treason case could drag on for months and maybe even years, potentially crippling Ssentamu’s efforts as an anti-government activist.

A trial date has not yet been fixed for the treason charges. Ssentamu and his co-accused will still be required to appear before a magistrate’s court on August 30. At some point the magistrate, having considered the evidence, will then decide if the case should be committed to the High Court for trial.

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