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Uganda: drop all charges against Kakwenza Rukirabashaija

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Kakwenza Rukirabasaija

RAPID ACTION NETWORK

29 September 2020

RAN 10/20

PEN International condemns the unlawful arrest and detention of Ugandan novelist and journalist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija. He was arrested on the morning of 18 September 2020 at his home in Iganga District, Kigulu County, by officers from the Ugandan Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI).

PEN has received reports that he was briefly detained at Mbuya by the CMI and later transferred to the Special Investigations Unit Kireka where he was illegally detained for three days in violation of Uganda’s law which requires that arrested persons are charged in court with 48 hours of their arrest. The reports have also stated that the arresting CMI officers informed Rukirabashaija’s wife, and a Local Council official, both present at the time of arrest, that the arrest was related to Rukirabashaija’s continued writing, which they claimed was critical of President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni.

On Monday 21 September 2020, Rukirabashaija was released on a police bond, charged with the offence of ‘inciting violence and promoting sectarianism.’ The police bond, which PEN has seen requires Rukirabashaija to report to the police at the Special Investigations Unit at Kireka, 240 Kilometres away from his home on a weekly basis to supposedly ‘answer to the charges’ for an indefinite period. He has not been arraigned in court yet.

This is the second time that Rukirabashaija is being arrested this year. On 13 April 2020, he was arrested by the same CMI officers. He was detained for seven days during which he was interrogated and tortured over his fictional novel, The Greedy Barbarian. The novel explores themes of high-level corruption involving characters in the political and military establishment.

The latest arrest of Rukirabashaija comes at a time when he is at an advanced stage of publishing his new book, The Banana Republic in which he recounts his experience, including torture by state security agents during his arrest and detention in April 2020. He has informed his lawyers that he was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, including torture, by state security agents on both instances of his arrest.

We reiterate our statement of 4 May 2020 that the unlawful actions by the Uganda CMI and police against Rukirabashaija are attacks on his legitimate rights to freedom of thought and expression. On both instances of his unjustified arrest and detention, Rukirabashaija has informed his lawyers that his interrogation was centred on his writing and not the charges indicated by state security agents in official documents.

PEN is gravely concerned about the physical safety and welfare of Rukirabashaija. He has informed his lawyers that he is still undergoing treatment for injuries he suffered during his detention in April 2020. Furthermore, state security agents continue to withhold his computer, cell phone and data storage bank although these are not included as exhibits in the court case against him.

TAKE ACTION

Please send urgent appeals to the authorities of the Republic of Uganda urging them to:

  • Immediately and unconditionally drop the unjust charges levelled against Kakwenza Rukirabashaija and cease all attacks against his legitimate right to freedom of expression;
  • Stop abuse of the rule of law and police powers to harass Rukirabashaija simply because he is a regime critic in his writing and other peaceful expression;
  • Uphold Uganda’s regional and international human rights obligations to respect, protect and promote freedom of expression;
  • Impartially investigate the reports of torture that Rukirabashaija has informed his lawyers of, and hold the military or police officers found culpable to account;
  • Immediately return to Rukirabashaija all his property unlawfully held by state security agents; and
  • Guarantee the personal safety and security of Rukirabashaija.

Send your appeals via e-mail, phone, or Twitter to the following Ugandan officials:

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda

Email: info@statehouse.go.ug

Tel: +256 414 231 900

Twitter: @KagutaMuseveni

Abel Kandiho, Director of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI)

Twitter: @UPDFspokespersn

Martin Okoth Ochola, Inspector General of Police

Email: info@upf.go.ug

Tel: +256 712 745 013

Twitter: @PoliceUg

William Byaruhanga, Attorney General

Tel: +256 230802/254829

Twitter: @MoJCA_UG

In addition, post your action on your social media platforms to highlight the plight of Kakwenza Rukirabashaija and tag the pages of the listed officials.

Please inform PEN International of any action you take and any responses you receive.

*** Please send your appeals immediately ***

Publicity

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Kakwenza Rukirabagaisha and the state of freedom of expression in Uganda;
  • Share information about the harassment and attacks directed at Kakwenza Rukirabagaisha by agents of the Ugandan state on your social media platforms; and
  • Please inform PEN International of any action you take and of any response you receive.

Background

On 13 April 2020, Uganda writer and novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was arrested at his home by officers from the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI). H was detained for seven days before arraignment in court and informed his lawyers that he had been subjected to torture. Although he was charged with covid19 related offence following a post he had made on his Facebook account, his interrogation centred on his novel, The Greedy Barbarians that explores themes of high-level corruption in a fictional country. PEN International issued a statement on 4 May 2020 highlighting his situation and calling on the Ugandan authorities to drop what seem to be false charges when in real sense Rukirabashaija was being targeted because of his writing. In the latest incident arrest and unlawful detention, the arresting officers questioned him about his new, yet to be published book, The Banana Republic although in official documents seen by PEN, the police strangely claim that Rukirabashaija is being investigated on a charge of ‘inciting violence and promoting sectarianism.’

Freedom of Expression in Uganda

Uganda has ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), both of which guarantee the right to freedom of expression. The Constitution of Uganda also guarantees human rights, including the right to freedom of expression. All these commitments compel the authorities of the Republic of Uganda to respect the right to freedom of expression, including free speech. Despite these commitments, Ugandan authorities have a long history of failure and outright refusal to comply with the country’s international human rights standards on the right to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.

Misuse of state security agencies and abuse of rule of law to silence dissenting voices in rampant. It is not uncommon for critical voices, particularly writers, journalists, human rights defenders, political opposition activists, artistes, university students and academics, and others peacefully protesting unjust actions by government and state officials to be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention; acts of brutality, including torture and malicious prosecution.

Use of repressive laws, particularly the Public Order Management 2013 and the vaguely worded Computer Misuse Act 2011 are frequently applied by the authorities to crack down on critics of the Uganda government. Despite numerous appeals to the Uganda authorities by national and international human rights groups to repeal sections of these laws that negate Uganda’s international human rights commitments and obligations, the authorities have continued to ignore these calls.

For more information please contact Nduko o’Matigere, Africa Regional Coordinator at PEN International on e-mail Nduko.oMatigere@pen-international.org