By Elias Biryabarema
KAMPALA – A Ugandan court ordered an award-winning author and prominent government critic free on bail on Tuesday, but he was immediately arrested again, his lawyer said, prolonging weeks of detention that have brought accusations of torture.
Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, 33, is best-known for “The Greedy Barbarian,” a novel about greed and corruption in a fictional country that has been widely interpreted as a satire about Uganda’s long-serving President Yoweri Museveni.
Last year, Rukirabashaija won the PEN Pinter Prize for an “International Writer of Courage”.
Gunmen broke down his doors on Dec. 28 and detained him incommunicado at an undisclosed location until Jan. 11 when he was charged with “offensive communication” over tweets about Museveni and his son Muhoozi Kainerugaba, a military general.
Many Ugandans believe Kainerugaba is being groomed to succeed his 77-year-old father who has held power since 1986 in what critics say is an increasingly dictatorial rule.
On Tuesday, a court in the capital Kampala ordered that Rukirabashaija be freed on condition that he paid bail of 500,000 Ugandan shillings ($142), surrendered his passport and did not comment publicly on the matter.
Rukirabashaija attended the hearing remotely via video link from Kitalya prison, about 60 km (37 miles) west of Kampala.
His lawyer Ronald Samuel Wanda told Reuters that he travelled to Kitalya to submit the release order papers, only to see a vehicle without licence plates exiting the prison.
Officials told them his client was inside, he said, adding: “We have no idea where he was taken or by who.”
Another lawyer for Rukirabashaija, Eron Kiiza, told Reuters the author had shown signs of torture when security personnel took him to his house for an evidence search: marks on his legs and feet, vomiting and urine with blood.
In a letter to Rukirabashaija’s legal team, the prison service also said a medical examination found his body bore “healing scars on the back, the buttocks, thighs and hands” but that the wounds happened before he came into their custody.
Police and military spokespeople did not answer Reuters calls for comment on the torture allegations or where he had been taken on Tuesday.
In 2020, Rukirabashaija was interrogated for five days in the Ministry of Defence over whether “The Greedy Barbarian” is about Museveni. He was beaten and chained, sustaining a damaged kidney, the author said afterwards.