UGANDA: Immediately and unconditionally release novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija

PEN International protests the arbitrary and violent arrest of novelist, activist and PEN Uganda Board member, Kakwenza Rukirabashaija on 28 December 2021 by Uganda security forces. Rukirabashaija is the 2021 PEN Pinter Prize International Writer of Courage award winner. PEN fears for his safety and wellbeing as the security forces continue to hold him incommunicado and without charging him in a court of law. We demand that Uganda authorities immediately and unconditionally release Kakwenza and stop harassing him for his opinion and exercise of freedom of expression.

On 28 December, Kakwenza posted on his Twitter page that gunmen were breaking into his house. PEN has since established that the ununiformed individuals are operatives of the Uganda security forces and that they broke into Kakwenza’s house, threatened to break his legs, and violently arrested him with neither warrant nor explanation. He has been held incommunicado ever since, with his lawyer denied access to visit him at the Crimes Unit, Bukoto in Kampala city. It is believed that Kakwenza has been secretly moved to a military safehouse.

PEN believes that Kakwenza Rukirabashaija is being targeted because of his recent online posts, criticizing President Yoweri Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who is also the commander of Uganda’s land armed forces.

“Criticism of those in power is not a crime. It is horrifying that Kakwenza Rukirabashaija is facing state harassment, yet again because of his critical views about his country’s first family. Freedom of expression is protected in the Ugandan constitution and its peaceful exercise does not exclude public or annoying opinions about powerful individuals. Kakwenza has not committed any crime and should be released immediately and unconditionally,” said Romana Cacchioli, Executive Director of PEN International.

This is the third time that Kakwenza Rukirabashaija has been arbitrarily arrested and detained incommunicado over the last two years. On 13 April 2020, he was arrested at his home by officers from the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) who detained him for seven days and interrogated him about his novel, The Greedy Barbarian. Although the entire interrogation was reportedly about the contents of his novel, he was presented in court on 21 April 2020 and charged with violating COVID-19 health regulations, supposedly for the offence of ‘doing an act likely to spread the infection of disease…’ He was released on bail and subsequently, on two different occasions, due to failure by the state prosecutor to appear in court to argue the case, a Chief Magistrate’s Court dismissed the case and freed Rukirabashaija, citing non-appearance of the complainant.

On 18 September 2020, Rukirabashaija was arrested again at his home by the same officers from the CMI and held for three days. He was questioned about his second book, Banana Republic: Where Writing is Treasonous in which he describes the torture he was subjected to during his first detention. He has sworn an affidavit and sued the Ugandan authorities for the torture. He was released on a police bond pending investigation for the offence of ‘inciting violence and promoting sectarianism.’ Under this bond he is required to report to the police 240km away from his home on a weekly basis for an indefinite period. He has reported that he and his family have been subjected to unlawful surveillance by state security agents.

PEN International is gravely concerned about the physical safety and wellbeing of Kakwenza Rukirabashaija. We protest the systematic misuse of the rule of law to target Rukirabashaija simply because he holds and expresses critical views about powerful government and state officials. PEN International demands that the Uganda authorities:

  • Immediately and unconditionally release Kakwenza Rukirabashaija and cease all attacks on his legitimate right to freedom of expression;
  • Stop abuse of the rule of law and police powers to harass regime critiques and dissenting voices;
  • Uphold Uganda’s regional and international human rights obligations to respect, protect and promote freedom of expression;
  • Guarantee the personal safety and security of Rukirabashaija

For further information, please contact Nduko o’Matigere, Africa Regional Coordinator at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, UK – email nduko.omatigere@pen-international.org