KAMPALA —A prominent Ugandan novelist and government critic who was abducted on Tuesday in Kampala us held in Mbuya Military Barracks, his lawyer said Wednesday, prompting calls by rights activists for his release.
“Armed men claiming to be from the Uganda Police Force” broke into Kakwenza Rukirabashaija’s home on Tuesday, his lawyer Eron Kiiza said, adding that he had been on the telephone to his client at the time.
“I heard them threaten to break his legs,” Kiiza told reporters.
An outspoken critic of President Yoweri Museveni’s government, Rukirabashaija won acclaim for his 2020 satirical novel, “The Greedy Barbarian”, which describes high-level corruption in a fictional country.
Rukirabashaija had recently stepped up criticism of Museveni’s son Muhoozi Kainerugaba — a general who many Ugandans believe is positioning himself to take over from his 77-year-old father — calling him “obese” and a “curmudgeon”.
It was not immediately clear who arrested the award-winning author, who wrote on his Facebook page: “Men with guns are breaking my door. They say they’re policemen but are not in uniform.” There was no immediate comment from Ugandan police.
According to Kiiza, witnesses saw Rukirabashaija being bundled into a van known as a “drone”, which is associated with abductions of government opponents in Uganda.
Currently under house arrest. Gunmen are breaking into my house by force.
— KAKWENZA RUKIRA (@KakwenzaRukira) December 28, 2021
Rukirabashaija was selected by the PEN Pinter prize to win this year’s International Writer of Courage award, which is presented annually to a writer who has been persecuted for speaking out about their beliefs.
Rukirabashaija has been repeatedly arrested after “The Greedy Barbarian” was published and said he was tortured while being interrogated about his work by military intelligence.
At that time, he was accused of breaching Covid-19 social distancing regulations, inciting violence and promoting sectarianism.
The writer described his time in detention as “inhumane and degrading” in his most recent book “Banana Republic: Where Writing is Treasonous”.
Earlier this month the United States placed sanctions on the head of Uganda’s military intelligence unit, Abel Kandiho, accusing him of “leading interrogations of detained individuals” targeted for their political views.
Uganda has suffered a series of crackdowns aimed at stamping out dissent, with journalists attacked, lawyers jailed, election monitors prosecuted and opposition leaders violently muzzled.
The country’s best-known rights lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo, who fled to the United States this year, criticised Rukirabashaija’s “violent unlawful arrest” and called for his release on Twitter.