KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Ugandan authorities on Tuesday brought criminal charges against an author critical of the government whose ongoing detention has sparked concern at home and abroad.
Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, who has been detained since Dec. 28, was charged with two counts of “offensive communication” for his alleged efforts on Twitter to “disturb the peace” of President Yoweri Museveni and his son, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who commands the East African country’s infantry forces.
Rukirabashaija has since been taken to a maximum-security prison outside the capital, Kampala, according to police. But Rukirabashaija’s lawyer, Eron Kiiza, told The Associated Press that his client had been “secretly remanded” after being charged without notice to defense attorneys.
Rukirabashaija’s next appearance in court has been scheduled for Jan. 21.
“It’s unfair and irregular,” Kiiza said, adding that those who saw his client in the courtroom described him as frail. “He’s a sick man.”
Rukirabashaija’s case has renewed focus on the alleged excesses of the security forces in enforcing Museveni’s authority.
Ugandan authorities were under pressure to free Rukirabashaija or produce him in court after two judicial orders, including one by a high court judge, for security officials to present the suspect in public.
Activists, opposition figures and others in Uganda and outside had called for Rukirabashaija’s release amid reports he was tortured while in custody.
The U.S. Embassy in Uganda had called for Rukirabashaija’s release, saying civil society, human rights defenders, journalists and others “all play critical roles in a democratic society & should be able to carry out their work free of harassment.”
Rukirabashaija, who writes satirical fiction, has been detained twice before over his work highlighting the failures of Museveni, Uganda’s leader since 1986. The writer’s latest trouble stemmed from a series of tweets in which he described Museveni as an election thief and first son Kainerugaba as an overweight and “intellectually bankrupt” soldier who hopes to succeed his father as president.
Kiiza, the defense attorney, said he believed his client had previously been in the hands of the Special Forces Command, an army unit that protects the first family. The Special Forces Command has not commented on allegations it held the writer.
Rukirabashaija, 33, last year was awarded the PEN Pinter Prize for an international writer of courage.
English PEN, a human rights organization for writers, said in a statement last week that it was “gravely concerned” about the author’s detention.