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Uganda: Critical author detained despite court release order

January 25, 2022

Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was "kidnapped" from prison hours after a court-ordered his release, his lawyer said. The writer had insulted President Yoweri Museveni and his son on social media.

Kakwenza Rukirabashaija
Kakwenza Rukirabashaija appeared frail at his hearing after his lawyer said he was tortured in jailImage: Abubaker Lubowa/REUTERS

Award-winning Ugandan author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was taken from prison by a group of men on Tuesday, despite a court order that he be released on bail earlier in the day, his lawyer said. 

Rukirabashaija, a critic of President Yoweri Museveni, was arrested in December and held without charges and without being allowed to speak with anyone outside until January 11, when he was charged with "offensive communication."

On Tuesday a court in Kampala granted Rukirabashaija bail on condition that he not communicate with the press. But before he could be released, a group of men "kidnapped" him and took him to an unknown location, his lawyer Eron Kiiza said.

"About four hours after [Tuesday's] court hearing, armed men in plain clothes came to the prison and took Kakwenza away, we believe to SFC headquarters in Entebbe," he told AFP, referring to the Special Forces Command unit of Uganda's national defense force.

Who is Kakwenza Rukirabashaija?

A winner of the PEN Pinter Prize as an "International Writer of Courage," 33-year-old Rukirabashaija is most famous for his book "The Greedy Barbarian," which has been described as a thinly veiled satire of Museveni's rule.

Rukirabashaija has also been outspoken on social media in his criticism of the strongman and his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba. The author wrote on Twitter that the president was an "election thief" and that his son was "intellectually bankrupt."

Many believe that Kainerugaba is being groomed to take over for Museveni, 77, who has been in power since 1986.

Ugandan author of "Greedy Barbarian" Kakwenza Rukirabashaija reads the book at his home
His book "The Greedy Barbarian" is viewed as a thinly-veiled satire of President Museveni's ruleImage: ABUBAKER LUBOWA/REUTERS

Accusations of torture

At his bail hearing, Rukirabashaija was ordered to pay 500,000 Ugandan shillings ($142; €126), deposit his passport and not comment on the matter in the media.

His lawyer Kiiza had previously told Reuters news agency that his client was tortured in jail. Rukirabashaija has also said he was brutally beaten when he was taken in for questioning in 2020 over the content of "The Greedy Barbarian."

The case had gained international interest with US and EU representatives present in the courtroom on Tuesday.

Speaking on the courthouse steps after the bail hearing, Kiiza said he did not expect the matter to go "to full trail" because state prosecutors did not have a solid case against his client.

Update, January 26, 2022: This article has been revised upon learning that Rukirabashaija was once again detained after he'd been granted bail.

ab, es/rs (AFP, Reuters)