Award-winning Ugandan author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, who fled the country after being accused of insulting President Yoweri Museveni, has arrived in Germany for treatment after being “tortured” in prison, his lawyer said on Wednesday.
Rukirabashaija’s lawyer, Eron Kiiza, confirmed his client’s arrival in Germany, describing the news as “a great relief”.
The arrival of the Ugandan writer 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” that Rukirabashaija was able to escape “from the clutches of his executioners”.
The novelist was arrested shortly after Christmas and later charged with “offensive communication” in a case that has sparked international concern.
In an interview with FRANCE 24 last month, Rukirabashaija’s wife, Eva Basiima, said she saw signs of intensive torture on her husband’s body during a brief house visit in police custody while the police were searching the couple’s home.
Rukirabashaija was released on bail weeks later and said he was severely tortured in custody. He also appeared on TV earlier this month to reveal painful marks crisscrossing his back and scars on other parts of his body.
The European Union was among those calling for a “thorough investigation” into rights abuses in Uganda.
The 33-year-old author escaped from Uganda two weeks ago – after a court rejected his request for his passport back – ahead of a criminal trial due to start today.
He fled Uganda by walking to neighboring Rwanda across the hilly border and then traveled to a third country.
Following this, the UN Refugee Agency facilitated his trip to Germany, according to Kiiza who declined to provide further details.
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 his criticism of Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, an army general who many Ugandans believe is positioning himself to succeed his 77-year-old father.
Kainerugaba’s rise through the military ranks, 47, is being watched closely by experts who note that the country’s security forces are key to his father’s grip on power.
Since fleeing, Rukirabashaija has been tweeting relentlessly, even getting embroiled in a Twitter spat with Kainerugaba whom he accuses of being “responsible” for his torture and calling him a “baby bully”.
Human rights activists have called for an investigation into his torture allegations and urged the authorities to drop all charges against him.
“It is intolerable that Ugandan security forces continue to torture and mistreat detainees,” Oryem Nyeko, Ugandan researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement earlier this month.
“Instead of prosecuting critics over tweets, Ugandan authorities should investigate this case and many other serious allegations of torture by state security in recent years.”
Rukirabashaija told the rights group he was taken to see Kainerugaba while in detention and ordered to stop writing, but the general denied the claim.
“I don’t know who this young boy is who they say was beaten up! I never heard of him until the media started reporting on him. I 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 imprisoned, election observers prosecuted and opposition leaders violently muzzled.
Activists have been repeatedly targeted using the strict computer misuse law that 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 jailed in 2019 under the same law after she published a profane poem about Museveni.
Rukirabashaija won acclaim for his 2020 satirical novel “The Greedy Barbarian”, which depicts high-level corruption in a fictional country.
He has been arrested several times since ‘The Greedy Barbarian’ was published and said he had previously been tortured during interrogation by military intelligence.
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, and PEN’s German branch has campaigned for his support.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)