Prominent Ugandan author flees into exile, says lawyer

Ugandan novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija

Prominent Ugandan novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija who was charged with insulting President Yoweri Museveni and his son. His lawyer says he has fled into exile.

Photo credit: Pool


A prominent Ugandan novelist who was charged with insulting President Yoweri Museveni and his son has fled the country out of fear for his life, his lawyer said Wednesday. 

"He has left Uganda," Eron Kiiza, the lawyer for Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, told AFP, adding that his client was seeking medical treatment abroad for injuries inflicted during his time in jail.

"He fears poisoning as a result of his injuries and the injections of unknown substances he was subjected to," Kiiza said.

He said the 33-year-old, who last year won an international award given to persecuted writers, had told him he was in neighbouring Rwanda and was aiming to reach Europe. 

Rukirabashaija was detained shortly after Christmas and later charged with "offensive communication" in a case that has raised international concern, with the European Union among those calling for a "comprehensive investigation" into rights abuses in Uganda.

Tortured in custody

He said he was tortured in custody and appeared on television at the weekend to reveal painful-looking welts criss-crossing his back and scars on other parts of his body.

"They beat me with batons, everywhere. You collapse, they beat you, you get up, you go into unconsciousness," he said in the interview with NTV Uganda broadcast on Saturday.

The charges against him 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".

He was released on bail last month, with his trial due to begin on March 23.

Chief magistrate Douglas Singiza had refused to relax Rukirabashaija's bail conditions, which included a hold on his passport and an order not to speak to journalists.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Rukirabashaija addressed Singiza as a "bespectacled pigheaded magistrate".

"You're a disgrace! Now, put my passport in the dock and try it. I won't face you again, dear bumlicker of Museveni and Muhoozi," he wrote.

'Plucked my flesh'

In Saturday's television interview -- carried out despite the bail conditions -- the author said he was forced to dance without rest for days alongside other prisoners.

Describing a technique other Ugandan dissidents claim has been used against them, Rukirabashaija also said tools were used to torture him.

"They were getting pliers and they plucked flesh from my thighs, everywhere," he said, also charging that he was injected several times with an unknown substance against his will.

Kiiza said his client was aiming to go to Germany for treatment.

"He told me he was in Rwanda and going to another country and heading to Europe," he added.

"He hopes to get some travel documentation from a neighbouring country and use that to go to Germany."

Uganda and Rwanda have recently moved to repair relations after years of hostility, with the land border reopened last month.

Not in Rwanda

And Museveni's son Kainerugaba posted on Twitter that he had spoken to Rwandan President Paul Kagame who told him that the author was not in Rwanda.

On Monday, the EU and several member nations released a statement expressing concern over "a significant increase of reports of torture, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, harassment as well as attacks against human rights defenders, members of the opposition and environmental rights activists".

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.

Rukirabashaija 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.


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