Police in Uganda have confronted the presidential candidate Bobi Wine during an online press conference where he announced a petition to the international criminal court to investigate rights abuses in the country.
During the meeting with journalists on Thursday evening, a week ahead of tense elections in Uganda, officers appeared to haul Wine from a vehicle while he pleaded: “I am not even allowed to park on the side of the road.”
Wine said police fired live rounds and teargas and arrested his campaign team in the latest episode of an escalating crackdown on him and his team by state security forces ahead of the elections.
In a defiant statement posted on Twitter, Wine said his battle to unseat the Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, would continue. “Today they arrested all the 23 members of our new campaign team & impounded the cars. They thought they had broken our back,” he wrote. “The wave is unstoppable! #WeAreRemovingADictator.”
Wine has drawn the ire of the 76-year-old Museveni, who has governed Uganda since 1986 and who he has repeatedly branded a dictator.
The president retains strong support in Uganda, with decades of economic growth and subsidies winning him a mass following, particularly in rural areas. Yet Wine’s campaign has galvanised staunch opposition to Museveni, and his stand against an old ruling elite and inequality has inspired young people in urban areas, and many across the continent.
In response to a strong challenge to Museveni’s rule, Uganda has experienced its worst political violence in a generation and there have been repeated arrests and attacks on opposition figures.
Hours after Wine announced his candidacy in November, he was arrested, and more than 50 people were shot dead by security forces in the protests that followed.
Those deaths form a critical part of Wine’s petition to the ICC to investigate alleged acts of torture, mutilation and murder of civilian protesters.
The petition by Wine and two other alleged torture victims mentions Museveni, the security minister Elly Tumwine, and other security officials.
Wine was a popular singer before he won a seat in parliament and attracted national attention as the beret-wearing leader of a movement known as People Power.
In December, Wine said one of his bodyguards was killed by military police who ran him over as Wine’s convoy was taking a wounded journalist to seek medical help. Military police denied involvement, saying the bodyguard had fallen from a speeding car.
Last week Wine told the Guardian in an interview that he is forced to wear a bulletproof jacket, describing the campaign as “like a war and a battlefield”.
“The regime is after our lives. It’s after hurting and incapacitating us. Every day we live is as if it’s the last one,” he said.
Authorities have clamped down on opposition rallies, stating they are in breach of Covid-19 restrictions. Last month the government wrote to Google, asking it to shut down 14 YouTube video channels that often host opposition figures because it said they had incited riots.
Fears have also grown that the internet could be shut down on election day, 14 January, after similar moves in the last election in 2016.