Security agents on Tuesday arrested Fred Lumbuye, a supporter of Uganda opposition party National Unity Platform (NUP), who is suspected of being the mastermind behind the rumours that President Yoweri Museveni had died after contracting Covid-19.
Lumbuye had also previously announced that the Kabaka of Buganda, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, was dead.
Just after taking oath of office following Uganda’s January general election, President Museveni embarked on tasks to stem the spread of coronavirus, as his main challenger, Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine, flew out of the country.
Kyagulanyi’s supporters took to social media to keep the man they hoped to be president relevant in the public sphere. And the one thing that seemed to rub President Museveni the wrong way was the announcement that he had died, a rumour that circulated on social media in June and July this year.
Rumour also had it that following Museveni’s death, Ugandan soldiers were preparing for the possible takeover before they announce the president’s successor. The rumours continued even when President Museveni appeared in public at Munyonyo and Bombo in the company Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto for the launch of a biochemical factory.
Following Lumbuye’s arrest, Ugandan media quoted a security source saying, “He (Lumbuye) has been tracked for some time, and he was finally arrested. Lumbuye had several players behind him. It is time for truth-telling and for him to reveal whoever was involved in feeding him with falsehoods to cause acrimony.”
His arrest comes weeks after President Museveni tasked security forces on June 8 to urgently step up and hunt all social media users who declare prominent Ugandans dead.
“Social media has been saying that Museveni is dead. They [Security service] should locate very quickly the one who tells such a story. Security service should solve that problem. I need to check with them [security service] so that we go for you. If you’re in Europe, we denounce you and say go to hell because you are wasting people’s time,” Mr Museveni said after a section of social media users and bloggers announced him dead.
The President said there was a need to crack down on people who misuse social media, including Ugandans living abroad. He added that many of them are now using online platforms to spread baseless and tasteless news.
Apart from Museveni, some people had also posted on social media that some members of the First Family to had died.
Follow the law
Lumbuye, a radical supporter of Kyagulanyi, is accused of peddling falsehoods against the government of Uganda during and after elections, which the government says affected the country’s image internationally.
Reports state that Lumbuye was picked up by security agents as he returned to his residence on Tuesday evening in Turkey. But his colleagues claimed that he was arrested by the Ugandan embassy in Turkey as he tried to renew his passport.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kampala said Ugandans in Turkey reported the arrest.
“According to reports from the Ugandan Community in Istanbul, Turkey, Mr Fred Lumbuye has been arrested. The Uganda Embassy in Ankara is yet to receive official communication from the relevant law enforcement institutions of Turkey in regard to this case,” the Foreign Ministry in Kampala said.
However, NUP members have insisted that Uganda and Turkey have no reciprocal bilateral arrangement which warrants the extradition of Lumbuye, but State House officials insist Lumbuye will be brought back to answer to the charges that will be preferred against him in court.
Foreign Affairs State Minister Okello Oryem told journalists at Uganda Media Centre in Kampala on Wednesday that Mr Lumbuye should not expect special treatment if he broke the law.
“I heard that he has been arrested. And if he’s arrested because of a crime he committed, then he deserves to be arrested. Anybody who commits a crime in any country whatsoever will pay the price. That person you’re talking about is not a special person. Who is he that he can be above the law irrespective of where he is? The law is very clear in all countries; you break the law, you pay the penalty. So if he broke the law then he will pay the price,” Mr Oryem said.
“And I would have thought that every single one of you would be jubilating that this person committed a crime and he’s been arrested and being brought before the court of law but now it seems you’re sympathising with him.