Ugandan writer detained for insulting president’s son

Kakwenza Rukirabashaija remains incommunicado despite court orders for his release

Award-winning Ugandan writer Kakwenza Rukirabashaija remains incommunicado a week after he was detained for insulting the Ugandan president and his son, despite court orders to release the writer.

His lawyer, Kiiza Eron, told The Irish Times that Mr Rukirabashaija is being held in a facility in Entebbe, about 40km from Uganda's capital Kampala, but Mr Eron has still not been granted access. However, the writer's wife saw him when he was taken to his home during a search of the premises, with Mr Eron saying there was evidence Mr Rukirabashaija had been tortured. Mr Rukirabashaija was vomiting and urinating blood, while there were bloodstains on his clothes and buttocks. "He's in pain," Mr Eron said.

He said the Ugandan leadership ignored a court order on Tuesday to release Mr Rukirabashaija.

Mr Rukirabashaija is a law student, as well as an author. In April 2020, he was detained for seven days because of his novel The Greedy Barbarian, which details high-level corruption in a fictional country. He has since written Banana Republic: Where Writing is Treasonous, in which he describes the torture he underwent then. In October, he was named the PEN Pinter Prize's International Writer of Courage for 2021.



The day before his most recent arrest, Mr Rukirabashaija tweeted about president Yoweri Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who is the commander of the Ugandan army’s land forces, saying he had “humongous hips and breasts”.

“He’s obese. How can a soldier who went to genuine military training and exercises everyday have such a sedentary figure? God punishes the corrupt in a good way . . .”

Mr Rukirabashaija’s last tweet, posted on December 28th, reads: “Currently under house arrest. Gunmen are breaking into my house by force.”

"Sending armed men to break into a house, threaten to break the leg of [Mr Rukirabashaija] on account of alleged offensive communication and holding him incommunicado and beyond the 48 hours [allowed] is the epitome of impunity. We [should] all be outraged and challenge such actions," tweeted Ugandan human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo.

Speaking out

Mr Eron said international donors, like Ireland, have a duty to speak out about the ongoing repression of Ugandan citizens. "They [such donors] bankroll this government so they should exert pressure so the government respects his fundamental rights and the laws of the land," he said.

This latest action is just one in a long pattern of human rights violations, Mr Eron added, although scrutiny has lessened one year after Uganda’s highly disputed January 2021 elections, where Mr Museveni, who has been in power since 1986, won another term.

Uganda is an Irish Aid partner country. When asked about state-led repression of its citizens during a visit there in October, Colm Brophy, Minister of State for Overseas Development Aid, said: "There are, I think, all types of stories always available about any country."

The Ugandan president did not respond to a request for comment.

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa