Kampala (AFP) – An award-winning Ugandan author who fled the country after being accused of insulting President Yoweri Museveni and his son has arrived in Germany for treatment after being “tortured” in prison, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
“He arrived in Germany this morning,” Eron Kiiza, Kakwenza Rukirabashaija’s lawyer, told AFP, calling the news a “great relief”.
The novelist was arrested shortly after Christmas and later charged with “offensive communication” in a case that has sparked international concern.
The European Union was among those calling for a “thorough investigation” into rights abuses in Uganda.
Rukirabashaija, 33, escaped from Uganda two weeks ago – after a court rejected his request to return his passport – ahead of a criminal trial due to start today.
He said he was tortured in detention and appeared on TV earlier this month to reveal painful marks crisscrossing his back and scars on other parts of his body.
Rukirabashaija, who was released on bail last month, fled Uganda by walking to neighboring Rwanda across the hilly border and then on to a third country.
Following this, the UN Refugee Agency facilitated his trip 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 article, he described Kainerugaba, a general who many Ugandans believe is positioning himself to succeed his 77-year-old father, as “obese” and “grumpy”.
Human rights activists have called for an investigation into his torture allegations and urged the authorities to drop all charges against him.
“It is intolerable that Ugandan security forces continue to torture and mistreat detainees,” Oryem Nyeko, Ugandan researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement earlier this month.
“Instead of prosecuting critics over tweets, Ugandan authorities should investigate this case 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 imprisoned, election observers prosecuted and opposition leaders violently muzzled.
Activists have been repeatedly targeted using the strict computer misuse law that 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 jailed in 2019 under the same law after she published a profane poem about Museveni.
Rukirabashaija won acclaim for his 2020 satirical novel “The Greedy Barbarian”, which depicts high-level corruption in a fictional country.
He has been arrested several times since ‘The Greedy Barbarian’ was published and said he had previously been tortured during interrogation by military intelligence.
He received the 2021 PEN Pinter Award for Courageous International Writer, which is given annually to a writer who has been persecuted for speaking out about their beliefs, and PEN’s German branch has campaigned for his support.
© 2022 AFP