Ugandan court orders prominent author, Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, to stand trial

The 33-year-old satirical novelist says he was tortured in custody.

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A Ugandan court on Monday ordered a prominent author to stand trial next month on charges of insulting President Yoweri Museveni and his son.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni

Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was detained shortly after Christmas and later charged with “offensive communication” in a case that has raised international concern.

The 33-year-old satirical novelist says he was tortured in custody and appeared on television at the weekend to reveal painful-looking welts criss-crossed on 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.

Chief magistrate Douglas Singiza announced a trial date of March 23 but refused to relax Rukirabashaija’s bail conditions set at a January hearing, which include an order not to speak to journalists.

Singiza warned the author, who stood in the dock in a business suit at Monday’s session, that speaking to the media about his case “exerts unnecessary pressure on this court”.

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”.

‘Plucked flesh with pliers’

In Saturday’s television interview, carried out despite the bail conditions, the author described being 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.

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.

On Monday, the European Union and several member states issued a joint statement calling for a “comprehensive investigation” into rights abuses in Uganda.

The statement voiced concern “over a situation that for more than a year has seen 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”.

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.

In 2020, he was also held for a week after being arrested for breaching COVID-19 social distancing rules, inciting violence and promoting sectarianism.

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