PEN America Calls for Release of Ugandan Writer Kakwenza Rukirabashaija

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Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, Ugandan novelist, and Black Star News columnist. Photo: Facebook.

On December 28, 2021, award-winning writer Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was detained by Ugandan security forces and taken into unlawful detention without charges or explanation. Following reports of his torture while in the custody of Ugandan authorities—where he currently remains—PEN America condemns the deplorable violation of his human rights. 

“Kakwenza Rukirabashaija is no stranger to the Ugandan authorities’ systematic suppression of dissident views, yet he has courageously continued to speak out despite repeated attempts to not only stifle his free expression but also to threaten his safety,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk programs at PEN America. “Rukirabashaija’s detention and apparent torture are egregious acts of state violence and clear attempts to muzzle individuals expressing criticism of President Yoweri Museveni. These rights violations demonstrate a vindictive abuse of the law and demonstrate the truth of many of the critiques Rukirabashaija himself is being targeted for making in his writing. We condemn the Ugandan authorities’ due process violations and Rukirabashaija’s arbitrary detention, and we are urgently concerned for his health and well-being in light of horrific reports of torture. We call on the Ugandan authorities to immediately comply with the court order to release Rukirabashaija unconditionally and without further harm, and to cease all violations of free expression.” 

On December 28, Rukirabashaija shared in a Facebook post that armed men were breaking into his house; shortly after, Ugandan security forces violently arrested him and took him into custody. Though no official charges have been filed before a court, the reason for his arrest is likely due to a series of tweets in which Rukirabashaija criticized President Museveni and his son Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba—an alleged violation of Section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act. On January 3, 2022, Rukirabashaija was allowed a brief home visit under guard, while security forces conducted a search of his house for approximately three hours. According to his wife, Rukirabashaija displayed visible signs of torture, including wounds on his feet and bloodstained clothing. His lawyer, Kiiza Eron, shared photos of his bloody clothing on Twitter, alleging that Rukirabashaija had been urinating blood, vomiting, had swollen legs, and was in urgent need of medical attention. 

On January 4, in a civil complaint against his illegal detention, Magistrate Irene Nambatya presiding over a court in Kampala ordered Rukirabashaija’s unconditional release, and on January 5, Rukirabashaija’s wife and lawyers filed a habeas corpus application for failing to comply with the court’s release order and detaining the novelist for over 48 hours without charge. Since the court ruling, Rukirabashaija continues to be held incommunicado without official charges, in violation of Uganda’s law that requires arrested persons be charged in court within 48 hours of their arrest. His lawyer Kiiza Eron reported that Rukirabashaija is being detained at a facility run by Special Forces Command.

This is the third time Rukirabashaija has been detained by Ugandan authorities in retaliation for his writing. His publications have resulted previously in two separate arrests, once in April 2020 for his novel The Greedy Barbarian, which explores themes of high-level corruption in a fictional country, and again in September 2020 for Banana Republic: Where Writing is Treasonous, an account of the torture he was subjected to while in detention in 2020. In 2021, Rukirabashaija was the recipient of the PEN Pinter Prize International Writer of Courage Award.  



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