Award-winning Ugandan author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, who fled the country after being charged with insulting President Yoweri Museveni, arrived in Germany to seek medical treatment after being “tortured” in jail, his lawyer said Wednesday.
Rukirabashaija’s lawyer, Eron Kiiza, confirmed his client’s arrival in Germany, describing the news as “a big relief”.
The Ugandan writer’s arrival was also welcomed by Deniz Yucel, a Turkish-German journalist and director of PEN Germany. Speaking on behalf of PEN International, Yucel said he was “very happy” Rukirabashaija was able to flee “from the clutches of his tormentors”.
The novelist was detained shortly after Christmas and later charged with “offensive communication” in a case that has raised international concern.
In an interview with FRANCE 24 last month, Rukirabashaija’s wife, Eva Basiima, said she saw signs of extensive torture on her husband’s body during a brief home visit under custody while police searched the couple’s home.
Rukirabashaija was released on bail weeks later and said he was severely tortured in custody. He also appeared on television earlier this month to reveal painful-looking welts criss-crossing his back and scars on other parts of his body.
The European Union was among those calling for a “comprehensive investigation” into rights abuses in Uganda.
The 33-year-old author 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 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.
‘Baby despot’The charges against Rukirabashaija relate to his critical comments on Twitter about Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Africa’s longest-serving leader who came to power in 1986.
Rukirabashaija had recently stepped up criticism of Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, an army general who many Ugandans believe is positioning himself to take over from his 77-year-old father.
The 47-year-old Kainerugaba’s rise up the military ranks is being carefully monitored by experts who note that the country’s security forces are key to his father’s grip on power.
Since he fled, Rukirabashaija has been tweeting relentlessly, even becoming embroiled in a Twitter spat with Kainerugaba whom he accused of being “in charge” of his torture and branding him a “baby despot”.
Rights campaigners have called for an investigation into his claims of torture and urged the authorities to drop all charges against him.
“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.”
CrackdownsRukirabashaija told the rights group that he was taken to see Kainerugaba during his detention and instructed to stop writing, but the general denied the claim.
“I don’t know who this young boy is whom they say was beaten! I never heard of him until the media started talking about him. I’ve never met him or talked to him and I have no desire to do so,” Kainerugaba said on Twitter.
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.
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.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)