Kampala – A prominent Ugandan author accused of insulting the country’s ruling family was freed on Wednesday after being detained despite a court order for his release, his lawyer said.
Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, whose case has triggered international concern, was “dumped” by the military at his home in eastern Uganda after being held at a military police barracks, lawyer Eron Kiiza told AFP.
“He is released but weak and we have taken him to hospital in Kampala,” Kiiza added.
A court on Tuesday had ordered the release on bail of the award-winning 33-year-old, who his lawyers say has been tortured since his arrest in late December.
But Kiiza said that instead of being freed, the writer was “kidnapped” from prison several hours later by armed men in plain clothes.
Rukirabashaija was charged on January 11 with “offensive communication” over a series of unflattering Twitter posts about veteran President Yoweri Museveni 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”.
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.
The United States, the EU and civil society groups have voiced alarm about Rukirabashaija’s case.
The novelist appeared frail Tuesday when he appeared via video link for his bail ruling, with his counsel saying his multiple scars were “obvious marks of torture”.
The magistrate had set bail at 500 000 Ugandan shillings ($140 125 euros) and ordered him to surrender his passport.
Rukirabashaija was also ordered not speak to reporters before the conclusion of his trial.
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The author won acclaim for his 2020 satirical novel “The Greedy Barbarian”, which describes high-level corruption in a fictional country.
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 their beliefs.
PEN International had said Tuesday after his disappearance that it feared for Rukirabashaija’s life and would hold Museveni, his son and the Ugandan military responsible for the “flagrant abuse of office”.
“Peaceful expression of uncomfortable views is not a crime,” it said on Twitter.
The EU delegation in Uganda and 10 other European diplomatic missions earlier Wednesday voiced “serious concern” about the reports of the writer’s rearrest, saying it showed “clear disrespect to the rule of law and the right of a Ugandan citizen to a fair trial”.
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The United States also said on Tuesday it would “continue to monitor closely actions by individuals to undermine rule of law and democracy”.
It is not the first time Rukirabashaija has been arrested since “The Greedy Barbarian” was published.
In 2020, he was held for a week after being arrested for breaching Covid-19 social distancing rules, inciting violence and promoting sectarianism.
He has said he was tortured while being interrogated by military intelligence about his work.
The novelist described his time in detention as “inhumane and degrading” in his most recent book “Banana Republic: Where Writing is Treasonous”.