Home Author ‘Tortured’ Ugandan author flees into exile: lawyer

‘Tortured’ Ugandan author flees into exile: lawyer


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Kampala (AFP) – A prominent Ugandan novelist accused of insulting President Yoweri Museveni and his son has fled the country in fear for his life, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

“He left Uganda,” Eron Kiiza, Kakwenza Rukirabashaija’s lawyer, told AFP.

He said his client, who claims he was tortured behind bars, was seeking treatment abroad for the injuries sustained.

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

He said Rukirabashaija, 33, who won an international prize for persecuted writers last year, told him he was in neighboring Rwanda and was aiming to reach Europe.

Rukirabashaija was arrested shortly after Christmas and later charged with “offensive communication” in a case that has sparked international concern, with the European Union among those calling for an investigation into rights abuses in Uganda.

He appeared on TV over the weekend to reveal marks crisscrossing his back and scars on other parts of his body.

“They beat me with truncheons, everywhere. You collapse, they beat you, you get up, you pass out,” he said in an interview with NTV Uganda.

The charges against him relate to unflattering comments on Twitter about Museveni and his powerful son Muhoozi Kainerugaba.

He described Kainerugaba, a general who many Ugandans say is positioning himself to succeed his 77-year-old father, as “obese” and “grumpy”.

– ‘Masterly stubborn’ –

He was released on bail in January after nearly a month in detention, with his trial due to start on March 23.

Chief Magistrate Douglas Singiza had refused to ease Rukirabashaija’s bail conditions, which included the suspension of his passport and an order not to speak to journalists.

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Rukirabashaija addressed Singiza as a “stubborn bespectacled magistrate.”

“You are a disgrace! Now put my passport in the dock and give it a try. I won’t face you again dear Museveni and Muhoozi bumlicker,” he wrote.

In Saturday’s TV interview – conducted despite bail conditions – the author said he was forced to dance without rest for days and was repeatedly injected with an unknown substance.

“They were taking pliers and they ripped the flesh off my thighs, all over,” he said.

Rukirabashaija said on Twitter on Wednesday that Museveni’s son Kainerugaba “was responsible for my torture”.

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

Rukirabashaija won acclaim for his 2020 satirical novel ‘The Greedy Barbarian’, which depicts high-level corruption in a fictional country KATUMBA BADRU SULTAN AFP/Dossier

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

Uganda and Rwanda recently decided to restore relations after years of hostility, with the land border reopening last month.

Kainerugaba tweeted that he had spoken to Rwandan President Paul Kagame who told him the author was not in the country.

Reports of torture

On Monday, the EU issued a statement expressing concern over “a significant increase in cases of torture, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, harassment as well as attacks on human rights defenders, opposition members and environmental rights activists”.

Museveni, who took power in 1986 and was once hailed as a reformist, cracked down on dissent and changed the constitution to allow himself to run for office again and again.

Journalists have been attacked, lawyers imprisoned, election observers prosecuted and opposition leaders violently muzzled.

Outspoken Ugandan activist and writer Stella Nyanzi, who was jailed in 2019 after publishing a secular poem about Museveni, also fled to Germany earlier this year.

Rukirabashaija won acclaim for his 2020 satirical novel “The Greedy Barbarian”, which depicts high-level corruption in a fictional country.

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.

Rukirabashaija has been arrested several times since ‘The Greedy Barbarian’ was published and said he had previously been tortured during interrogation by military intelligence.