A Kampala court on Tuesday ordered the release of an acclaimed Ugandan novelist who was detained and allegedly tortured, after he posted unflattering comments about veteran President Yoweri Museveni’s son.
Satirical author and outspoken government critic Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, 33, was arrested at his home in the capital last week.
He is accused of abusing Museveni’s son Muhoozi Kainerugaba a powerful general who many Ugandans believe is positioning himself to take over from his 77-year-old father by calling him “obese” and a “curmudgeon” in social media posts.
Magistrate Irene Nambatya ruled that Rukirabashaija be “unconditionally” freed, saying: “Every police officer should comply with the above order.”
The writer was due to appear in a separate court to answer charges of “offensive communication” but did not turn up, his lawyer Eron Kiiza told journalists.
Kiiza said he had been denied access to his client and that he had been tortured while in custody.
“Police are fearing to produce him in court with torture marks, that’s why they are delaying to bring him to court,” he said.
Charles Twiine, spokesman for the Police Criminal Investigations Department (CID), said Rukirabashaija was to be charged under the Computer Misuse Act with an offence that can carry up to a year in jail.
On the day of his arrest on December 28, the author wrote on his Facebook page: “Men with guns are breaking my door. They say they’re policemen but are not in uniform.”
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.
Rukirabashaija has been repeatedly arrested since “The Greedy Barbarian” was published. He has said he was tortured while being interrogated by military intelligence about his work.
At the time, he was accused of breaching Covid-19 social distancing rules, inciting violence and promoting sectarianism.
He described his time in detention as “inhumane and degrading” in his most recent book “Banana Republic: Where Writing is Treasonous”.
Once hailed as a reformist, Museveni has ruled Uganda since seizing control in 1986, when he helped end years of tyranny under Idi Amin and Milton Obote. But the former rebel leader has since cracked down on dissent and changed the constitution to allow himself to contest elections again and again.
The East African country has suffered a series of crackdowns meted on those opposed to Museveni’s rule, with journalists attacked, lawyers jailed, election monitors prosecuted and opposition leaders violently muzzled.
The United States last month announced sanctions against Uganda’s military intelligence chief Major General Abel Kandiho, citing his involvement in serious human rights abuses including beatings, sexual assault and electrocution.
Barely two days after the sanctions, two other members of the Ugandan armed forces were handed lengthy jail terms for their part in violence against protesters in 2020 that left more than 50 people dead.