Ugandan security personnel on Thursday detained six supporters of pop star and presidential hopeful Bobi Wine for wearing red berets, a banned symbol of his “People Power” pressure group, a spokesman for the movement said.
Wine, 37, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has rattled the government since becoming a legislator in 2017 with a line in caustic criticism that has earned him growing support.
His rising political ambitions and connection with young people via his music have provoked a clamp-down by the government, which has detained some of his supporters and teargassed his rallies.
Joel Senyonyi, spokesman for Wine’s People Power movement, told Reuters the youths were detained in Kabalagala, a suburb in the south of the capital Kampala where they were holding a news conference to denounce the government’s red beret ban.
“The youths were emphasising that we commit no offense when we wear these berets,” Senyonyi said, adding that police stormed the event and detained the six while others fled.
“The beret, it’s our symbol. When we wear those berets we identify not just with People Power but with the cause for a better Uganda,” he said.
Wine and supporters of the People Power movement that he hopes will help him unseat veteran leader Yoweri Museveni at the next presidential election have been wearing red berets and other items of red clothing including shirts and overalls.
Last month however the government banned civilian use of red berets, describing them and other pieces of military wear as “property of the state”.
Civilians found wearing or selling them, the government warned, would be prosecuted under military law, which can mean a life sentence.
Police spokesman Patrick Onyango told Reuters Wine’s supporters were arrested for staging an unlawful assembly because they had not notified the police in advance.
Wine has accused the government of blocking his concerts and intimidating his business partners in order to strangle him economically and politically.
Museveni, 75, in power since 1986, is widely expected to seek re-election at the next polls in 2021, pitting him against Wine, who has said he will also contest in the poll.