The Ugandan government says opposition MPs nursing serious injuries after being attacked by security forces were “beaten” not tortured.
Mr Julius Maganda, President Yoweri Museveni’s East African Affairs minister, says MPs Mr Bobi Wine and his Mityana Municipality counterpart Francis Zaake were only harassed.
The lawmakers are seeking medication in the US and India, respectively, after they were attacked in the fracas that marred Arua Municipality parliamentary by-election.
“I think torture is a process. The experience my colleagues have undertaken [sic] may not at this time be pronounced as torture. They could have been beaten but torture might not be beating,” Mr Maganda told civil society leaders from the East African region at a conference in Kampala.
Much as he condemns the alleged torture of the MPs, he said, there is need to probe circumstances under which the legislators fell victim.
“Leave alone what happened. Are we talking about what caused the MPs to reach the level at which they were beaten?"
His comments came as an ad hoc committee report released by parliament on Thursday confirmed that there was illegal detention and torture in Arua.
Separately, government spokesperson Mr Ofwono Opondo equated Mr Wine to “a passing cloud” that will soon fade away.
Mr Opondo was responding to Mr Wine’s remarks in an interview to BBC.
In the interview, Mr Wine says he will win the fight for freedom or “die trying”.
“I’m going to continue, most importantly, calling upon Ugandans, especially the young people, to stand up for what they believe in; to not give up and to continue pushing until they get the freedom and dignity they deserve,” he said.
“I’m going to continue the fight for freedom, and it’s a fight that we must either win or die trying.”
However, in response to the story, Mr Opondo tweeted: “Bobi Wine is a passing cloud as time will tell. He isn't the first or only one to be pampered. We previously saw western interests gallivanting around with Paul Semogerere, Peter Otai, Olara Otunnu, David Sejusa and Amama Mbabazi. But just how [did each one end?].”
Mr Wine became an MP in 2017, firing up a youthful population and proving to be a thorn in the flesh of President Museveni.
He was charged with treason last month after protesters allegedly stoned Mr Museveni's car during the by-election.
The lawmaker's arrest sparked violent protests and international condemnation over his alleged torture.
Mr Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, is expected to seek another term in 2021 after constitutional changes were passed last year to scrap age limits.
In this context, the brash former slum-dweller channels the daily frustrations of many young Ugandans.
Mr Wine's "age, his background and his story" make him a challenge unlike any Mr Museveni has faced during his 32-year rule, political analyst Rosebell Kagumire told AFP.
“Many Ugandans, nonetheless, credit Mr Museveni with delivering a degree of stability after he came to power at the head of a rebel army. Now the majority of Ugandans are young women and they don't relate to Mr Museveni's political message," Ms Kagumire said.
However, it is unclear what Mr Wine's political ambitions will be in the next election, Ms Kagumire said.
He has not yet even said that he wants to stand for president but a lot of people expect that he will.