Twitter in Uganda was buzzing on Sunday, 29 May with the hashtag #FreeSamwyiri. The Twitter campaign followed the arrest of a Ugandan man named Samson Tusiime allegedly for wearing and distributing T-shirts bearing the photo of Ugandan opposition leader Kizza Besigye.
Police allege that he was organizing “illegal” demonstrations and had plans of distributing similar T-shirts countrywide. According to Uganda's Independent newspaper, two other Ugandans, Ismail Muyinda and Asia Nanyanzi, were also arrested.
Tusiime had posted a message on Facebook on 28 May wearing the T-shirt in question, saying he was looking for his friend Ysmyl Muyinda (presumed to be the same Ismail Muyinda reported as arrested above), whose company produced and printed them. He wrote that he had gone to different police stations looking for his friend. When friends noticed that Tusiime himself had gone missing, they started a hashtag #FreeSamwyiri. Police later confirmed that he was arrested.
The case has agitated many Ugandans, who are in shock that a T-shirt could be enough to arrest someone. Joel Nevender, a Ugandan blogger, asked the police:
— Joel B Ntwatwa (@nevender) May 29, 2016
While Ogutu Daudi tweeted:
Can we come out and stop calling this a democracy because it isn't. Bloody tshirts. Put us in yellow jumpsuits why don't you. #freesamwyri
— iamogutudaudi (@iamogutudaudi) May 29, 2016
In recent months, Ugandan authorities have been especially intolerant of criticism. President Yoweri Museveni won a controversial fifth term in office in February 2016 in an election that the country's political opposition claims was rigged. Opposition members and other activists have been challenging Museveni's victory with a series of protests they've dubbed the “defiance campaign.”
After Tusiime's arrest, Josephine Karungi wondered:
Some things are terribly hard to spin…ati now we arrested him because why…you can't really say it was the tee shirt can you?
— Josephine Karungi (@jkkarungi) May 30, 2016
Patoraking, a university student, thought that this act was worse than the days of Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator who ruled Uganda from 1971 until 1979:
Our parents can nolonger even tell us “During Amin's time, …..” because this time we r in is even worse than Amin's time #FreeSamwyri
— Patoranking (@pyepar) May 29, 2016
Chapter Four Uganda, a legal aid organisation, responded to the outcry by sending their legal team to the police station:
— Chapter Four Uganda (@chapter4uganda) May 30, 2016
SIU Kireka stands for Special Investigation Unit at Kireka in the capital Kampala.
It is not yet known which exact charges will be laid against him. However, Qatahar Raymond, a Ugandan journalist who has been following Tusiime's case since he was arrested, speculated that he might be charged for inciting violence.
We learn that @Samwyri and his friend will likely be charged with ‘inciting violence’ if they are charged, that is.
— Qatahar Raymond (@qataharraymond) May 30, 2016