Two Ugandan opposition members of parliament were indicted on Tuesday for allegedly orchestrating a wave of machete killings that left dozens dead in the south of the country, a move described as "political persecution" by their lawyer.
For two months, the region of Masaka, located about 150 kilometers southwest of the capital, Kampala, has been living in terror of gangs that have killed around 30 people, mainly the elderly, in their homes at night, according to police.
After two days of questioning by the police, MPs Muhammad Ssegirinya and Allan Sewanyana were indicted by a court in Masaka on three counts of murder and one of attempted murder, their lawyer, Elias Lukwago, told AFP.
"They have denied all charges. ... This is political persecution by the military regime of (Uganda President Yoweri) Museveni," Lukwago said.
"We condemn in the strongest terms the use of a biased judicial process to meet the political objectives of a ruling party," he added, indicating that they would be held in pretrial detention until September 15 in the high-security prison of Kitalya, near Kampala.
Ugandan police spokesman Fred Enanga explained that Ssegirinya and Sewanyana were arrested after statements by several suspects accusing them of organizing the attacks "to sow fear among the population and make people hate the government.”
Both MPs are members of the National Unity Platform (NUP) of opposition leader Bobi Wine, rival of President Museveni in the disputed January election.
Wine, whose real name Robert Kyagulanyi, said the accusations were mounted by the government of Museveni to discredit the opposition.
“When the president recently said that the opposition was behind the killings, we thought it was a bad joke. But when the police summoned our MPs, we realized that the regime's plan to involve the leaders of the NUP in the murders was at work,” he said.
In a speech last month, Museveni called the perpetrators "pigs" and vowed their doom.
In power since 1986, Museveni, 76, was reelected in January for a sixth term, ahead of Wine, who denounced an electoral "masquerade.”
"No matter what the Museveni regime does, one day Uganda will be free, and those accused of crimes because they belong to the opposition will be released," Wine said.
In Masaka, residents called on the government to take strong action to stop the killers.
"We mourn our loved ones who were killed, we live in fear of being killed by gangs armed with machetes," Sarah Kasujja, a 45-year-old trader, told Agence France-Presse. She said her 81-year-old grandfather is one of the gangs’ victims.
"Some elderly people who lived alone (...) fled their homes to find safety in the cities," she said. "The government should be held responsible for not defending us against the killers. The army and the police were deployed, but they arrived too late.”
Ugandan National Council for the Elderly President Charles Isabirye called the wave of killings a "shock to the nation.”
"That someone is killing elderly people who live quietly in their homes is inconceivable," he told AFP. "We call on the government to ensure the protection of the elderly in the countryside, and the people behind (the murders) must be identified and punished.”
Source: Voice of America