Kampala – Ugandan opposition MPs on Wednesday announced plans to boycott parliament until two jailed colleagues were released, following their arrest this month in connection with a wave of grisly murders by machete-wielding gangs.
Lawmakers Muhammad Ssegirinya and Allan Ssewanyana have been charged with murder, terrorism, abetting and aiding terrorism, and attempted murder following an investigation into the killings in the region of Masaka, a move their lawyer branded “political persecution”.
Police accuse the two of orchestrating a killing spree that has seen thugs hack to death up to 39 mainly elderly villagers in their homes at night in just two months.
The two men belong to the opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) of popstar turned politician Bobi Wine – who challenged President Yoweri Museveni in a disputed election in January.
On Wednesday, the head of the opposition in parliament, Mathias Mpuuga, told AFP his party lawmakers “are not going back to parliament until our colleagues detained under unclear circumstances and in horrible conditions are set free”.
“(The) life of our colleagues is a matter of great concern and until they are released to go for medical treatment due to the torture and hard conditions they have endured… we are not going back,” he said.
The lawmakers, who have denied all charges, have been remanded in custody at the notorious Kigo maximum security prison near Kampala until October 13, their lawyer Erias Lukwago said.
Ugandan police spokesperson Fred Enanga had earlier said that some suspects who had already been charged or detained over the killing sprees had accused the MPs of organising the attacks “to cause fear in the population and cause people to hate the government”.
Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has described the accusations as part of a plot by Museveni’s government to vilify the opposition.
The boycott call came a day after opposition lawmakers wearing T-shirts emblazoned with photographs of the detained MPs staged a walkout, shouting “free our colleagues” as they left the chamber.
Museveni has recently opposed moves by courts to grant bail to murder suspects, saying it would lead to mob justice by citizens.
In an address last month he described those behind the machete killings as “pigs” and vowed they would be defeated.
Museveni won a sixth term in the January election that Wine, who came second to the veteran leader and has repeatedly been targeted by the authorities, says was rigged.
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