Over 200 opposition figures have been detained across Uganda, hampering efforts to launch a legal challenge against the disputed re-election of the country’s long-time leader, the main opposition party said Friday.
The Forum for Democratic Change “is in a big crisis” amid the mass arrests of party representatives in different parts of Uganda, said party lawyer Yusuf Nsibambi.
Some of those detained had crucial polling materials that could be used as evidence in a possible court case, while others were party supporters picked up from regional offices. One party member suffered a fractured arm during beatings in detention, he said.
“We are overwhelmed,” he said.
Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Kizza Besigye has been under house arrest for a week, with police detaining him several times as he tried to leave his house on the outskirts of Kampala.
President Yoweri Museveni won about 60 percent of the vote last week to Besigye’s 35 percent, according to the official tally. Besigye rejected the official count as fraudulent and called for an independent audit.
Museveni denied the allegations of vote fraud and vowed to “use both soft and hard means to guard the peace.”
Police spokeswoman Polly Namaye said Friday there were several operations against suspected criminals in different parts of Uganda going on but denied that opposition supporters were being targeted.
“What we are doing is to ensure that the communities are safe,” she said. “When we are arresting people we don’t know whether they belong to this party or that.”
The European Union observer mission said the Ugandan presidential election was marked by an “intimidating atmosphere” mainly created by the government, and added that Uganda’s election commission lacked independence and transparency.
In a statement Friday, the U.S. Embassy urged Ugandan authorities to “cease and desist from any further harassment or intimidation of members of the opposition.”
“Officials of all parties, including the opposition, must be allowed to provide their leadership with polling data collected during the vote, free from intimidation or threat of detention, in accordance with international norms and the principles of a democratic society,” the statement said.
Attempts by opposition officials to complete their own tally of election results have been repeatedly foiled by the police.