Kampala – Lawyers for a Ugandan writer charged with insulting the country’s ruling family said their client was unlawfully detained on Tuesday in defiance of a court order for his release issued just hours earlier.
A court in Kampala had granted bail to Kakwenza Rukirabashaija and ordered that he not speak to reporters before the conclusion of his trial on charges of offending President Yoweri Museveni and his powerful son on Twitter.
But his lawyer Eron Kiiza said that instead of being released, the award-winning writer was “kidnapped” from prison by men in plain clothes and taken to an unknown location.
“About four hours after (Tuesday’s) court hearing, armed men in plain clothes came to the prison and took Kakwenza away, we believe to SFC headquarters in Entebbe,” he told AFP, referring to the Special Forces Command unit of Uganda’s national defence force.
“Now we must go back to court.”
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Rukirabashaija – who his lawyers say has been tortured since his arrest in late December – seemed frail when he appeared via video link for his bail hearing.
A prison guard told magistrate Douglas Singiza that Rukirabashaija was “complaining of pain” and asked to remain seated for the hearing.
In granting bail, Singiza ordered that prosecutors complete their enquiries into the case by Friday and be ready to state their position at the next hearing on February 1.
He set a cash bail of 500 000 Ugandan shillings ($140/125 euros) and ordered the 33-year-old novelist to surrender his passport.
The magistrate also warned Rukirabashaija that if he spoke to the press before the case is completed his bail would “automatically collapse” and he would be returned to prison.
The author’s case has attracted international attention and diplomats from the United States and the European Union were present in court on Tuesday.
After the hearing, Kiiza told journalists he did not think state prosecutors would be ready to present their case.
“I doubt it will go to full trial,” he said.
Rukirabashaija was charged on January 11 with “disturbing” veteran President Yoweri Museveni and his powerful son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, in a series of unflattering Twitter posts.
In one post, he had 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”.
Kiiza has said that multiple scars detailed in a prison medical examination of his client were “obvious marks of torture”, and that his detention in December was illegal.
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The United States, the EU and civil society groups have demanded his release and protection from persecution.
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.
Picture: Getty Images