Ugandan author charged for criticizing President Yoweri Museveni

Published : January 12, 2022 16:26 IST

Rukirabashaija's novel, "The Greedy Barbarian", describes high-level corruption in a fictional country. Photo: ABUBAKER LUBOWA/REUTERS

Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was charged after making unflattering remarks about President Yoweri Museveni and his son.

Ugandan author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, who won a prestigious prize for "courageous writing" in 2021, was charged with two "offensive communication" counts on January 11. The longtime critic of President Yoweri Museveni briefly appeared at the Buganda Road Court in Kampala following tweets that were critical of Museveni and his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba. Prosecutors said Rukirabashaija "willfully and repeatedly" used his Twitter handle to "disturb the peace" of Museveni with "no purpose of legitimate communication."

The tweets that got Rukirabashaija into trouble

Rukirabashaija, who won the PEN Pinter Prize in 2021 for an international writer of courage, described Museveni as an "election thief" on Twitter and said Kainerugaba was "overweight" and "intellectually bankrupt." In early January, a court ordered his release, but security officials ignored the judgment.

The E.U. special representative for human rights, Eamon Gilmore, urged the Ugandan authorities to uphold law and due process. The U.S. Embassy in Uganda has also called for Rukirabashaija's release, saying civil society, human rights defenders and journalists play "critical roles in a democratic society," and should be able to work "free from harassment."

Rukirabashaija's attorneys kept in the dark

The author has been in detention at a maximum security prison since December 28, and, if found guilty, he faces up to a year in jail for each charge. Rukirabashaija's lawyer, Eron Kiiza, told The Associated Press that his client had been "secretly remanded'' after being charged without notice to defense attorneys. "It's unfair and irregular,'' Kiiza said.

Rukirabashaija's next appearance in court is scheduled for January 21. Last week, Kiiza told Reuters news agency that Rukirabashaija was being tortured. "He appeared vomiting, he was urinating blood, there were torture marks on his legs and feet. ... He was in deep pain," Kiiza said.

lo/wmr (AP, AFP, Reuters)