Kampala – An award-winning Ugandan author who fled the country after being charged with insulting President Yoweri Museveni and his son has arrived in Germany to seek medical treatment after being “tortured” in jail, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
“He arrived in Germany this morning,” Eron Kiiza, the lawyer for Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, told AFP, describing the news as “a big relief”.
The novelist was detained shortly after Christmas and later charged with “offensive communication” in a case that has raised international concern.
The European Union was among those calling for a “comprehensive investigation” into rights abuses in Uganda.
Rukirabashaija, 33, slipped out of Uganda two weeks ago after a court denied his application to have his passport returned ahead of a criminal trial that was due to begin today.
He said he was tortured in custody and appeared on television earlier this month to reveal painful-looking welts criss-crossing his back and scars on other parts of his body.
SFC violently arrested @KakwenzaRukira promising to break his legs: 28/12/2021. SFC searched IGANGA house: 3/1/2022 as he vomited & urinated blood with blood soiled clothes in the presence of his wife & children. SFC kidnapped him upon bail on 25/1/2022. Muhoozi met him thrice. https://t.co/wgU5W8ppkb pic.twitter.com/8EfUds0WXr
— KIIZA ERON (@kiizaeron) February 18, 2022
Rukirabashaija, who was released on bail last month, fled Uganda by walking into neighbouring Rwanda across the hilly border and then travelled to a third country.
Following that, the UN Refugee Agency facilitated his journey to Germany, according to Kiiza who declined to provide further details.
The charges against Rukirabashaija relate to unflattering comments on Twitter about Museveni, who has ruled Uganda since 1986, and his powerful son Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
In one post, he described Kainerugaba, a general who many Ugandans believe is positioning himself to take over from his 77-year-old father, as “obese” and a “curmudgeon”.
Rights campaigners have called for an investigation into his claims of torture and urged the authorities to drop all charges against him.
Military Police goon hiding behind a balaclava, kicked & pushed a journalist into oncoming traffic?#JournalismIsNotACrime
The journalist is covering a peaceful protest by #VictimsOfTorture against rampant torture, unlawful detention of suspects in #Uganda!#EndTortureInUganda? pic.twitter.com/IC70Tn9Iqg
— Buffalo Soldier? (@BuffaloSoldierA) February 22, 2022
“It is intolerable that Ugandan security forces are still torturing and ill-treating detainees,” Oryem Nyeko, Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement earlier this month.
“Instead of prosecuting their critics over tweets, the Ugandan authorities should be investigating this and many other serious allegations of torture by state security in recent years.”
Uganda has witnessed a series of crackdowns aimed at stamping out dissent, with journalists attacked, lawyers jailed, election monitors prosecuted and opposition leaders violently muzzled.
See how Uganda Police force treats Journalists,we pay u people to protect us with our properties not violating our Rights. ##violating rights of journalists is not the solution to this failing Govt ## and this must stop. pic.twitter.com/Evfi6Io2Cb
— Onyango Philip ?? (@OnyangoPhilip15) February 23, 2022
Activists have been repeatedly targeted using the strict Computer Misuse Act which was used against Rukirabashaija and which carries heavy penalties, including jail time.
Outspoken Ugandan activist and writer Stella Nyanzi, who fled to Germany earlier this year, was imprisoned in 2019 under the same law after posting a profane poem about Museveni.
Rukirabashaija won acclaim for his 2020 satirical novel “The Greedy Barbarian”, which describes high-level corruption in a fictional country.
He has been repeatedly arrested since “The Greedy Barbarian” was published and said he was previously tortured while being interrogated by military intelligence.
He was awarded the 2021 PEN Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage, which is presented annually to a writer who has been persecuted for speaking out about his beliefs, and PEN’s German branch has campaigned in his support.
Picture: Twitter / @GodsSword5