A court in Uganda on Tuesday charged a prominent author and government critic with “disturbing” the country’s veteran President Yoweri Museveni and his powerful son in unflattering social media posts.
Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was brought to court and charged with two counts of “offensive communication” and remanded in prison until January 21, said Charles Twine, spokesman for the Police Criminal Investigations Department.
Rukirabashaija, who last year won an international award for persecuted writers, was arrested at his home on December 28 and allegedly tortured after posting on Twitter about Museveni and his son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba.
In one post, the satirical writer had 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”.
His defence team protested that Tuesday’s hearing was carried out “secretly” without his lawyers being notified, a move it claimed was to allow “torture signs to heal”.
“It was not only his lawyers that were locked out of the formal charging, so too were his family, potential sureties and the media… setting the scene for using the court as an instrument for political persecution,” his lawyer Eron Kiiza said in a statement.
“Without his lawyers, he could not apply for bail or pursue his other legal remedies.”
Calls for release
In a charge sheet released by the Kampala court, state prosecutors said Rukirabashaija “wilfully and repeatedly used his Twitter handle to disturb the peace of His Excellency the President of the Republic of Uganda, Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni with no purpose of legitimate communication”.
On the second count, Rukirabashaija was accused of the same offence against Kainerugaba.
Under the Computer Misuse Act, the charge of “offensive communication” can carry a year in jail.
The government had challenged an earlier court order to unconditionally release Rukirabashaija from police custody.
The 33-year-old’s detention sparked calls from the United States, the European Union and civil society groups for his immediate release and protection from persecution.
The author 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.
Rukirabashaija has been repeatedly arrested since “The Greedy Barbarian” was published. He has said he was tortured while being interrogated by military intelligence about his work.
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.