A prominent Ugandan author who was charged with insulting President Yoweri Museveni and his son has fled the country out of fear for his life, his lawyer said Wednesday.
“He has left Uganda,” Eron Kiiza, the lawyer for Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, told AFP, adding that the 33-year-old was seeking medical treatment abroad for injuries inflicted during his time in jail.
“He fears poisoning as a result of his injuries and the injections of unknown substances he was subjected to,” Kiiza said.
The novelist was detained shortly after Christmas and later charged with “offensive communication” in a case that has raised international concern, with the European Union among those calling for a “comprehensive investigation” into rights abuses in Uganda.
Rukirabashaija said he was tortured in custody and appeared on television at the weekend to reveal painful-looking welts criss-crossing his back and scars on other parts of his body. The charges against him relate to unflattering comments on Twitter about President Yoweri 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”.
He was released on bail last month, with his trial due to begin on March 23.
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.
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.