The European Union (EU) has joined other rights bodies in demanding the unconditional release of Ugandan novelist and activist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, held incommunicado for more than a week despite court ordering police to free him.
In a tweet on Wednesday, Mr Eamon Gilmore, the EU special representative for human rights, urged the authorities in Kampala to release Mr Kakwenza, who was kidnapped by gunmen on December 28 and disappeared until police acknowledged holding him.
“Uganda: I’m alarmed by reports of alleged torture and incommunicado detention of author [Rukirabashaija Kakwenza]. He remains in detention without trial, despite a court order for his unconditional release. I urge Ugandan authorities to uphold rule of law and due process,” he tweeted.
Mr Gilmore’s concerns were shared by Ms Maria Håkansson, the ambassador of Sweden to Uganda, who expressed “full support” for the EU representative.
The EU delegation to Uganda, which manages the “EU-Uganda relations, programmes and activities” also supported the call in response.
Mr Gilmore, a former deputy prime minister, and minister of foreign affairs of Ireland is charged with enhancing the presence, effectiveness and visibility of EU human rights policy in the EU external actions.
Police say they are holding Mr Kakwenza on allegations of offensive communication after a series of belittling, derogatory and abusive tweets about President Museveni and his son, Lieutenant General Muhoozi Kainerugaba (Commander of Land Forces).
He has, however, not been formally charged.
In the days leading to his arrest, Mr Kakwenza repeatedly tweeted about the family, especially Lieutenant General Kainerugaba.
Mr Rukirabashaija’s wife, Ms Eva Basiima, and his lawyer Eron Kiiza said he had been tortured.
“A search is ongoing at Mr Rukirabashaija’s home in Iganga. He is urinating blood. He has swollen legs. He is clearly tortured. He needs urgent medication and counselling,” Mr Kiiza said.
In April 2020, Mr Rukirabashaija was detained and questioned about his novel, The Greedy Barbarian.
He penned another book, Banana Republic: Where Writing Is Treasonous about his ordeal while in custody, which caused his arrest in September 2020.
Mr Kakwenza was last year named the International Writer of Courage at the PEN Pinter Prize ceremony, an award is given to someone who has been persecuted for speaking out about their beliefs.
EU stance on human rights
In December 2020, the European Council adopted a regulation establishing a global human rights sanction regime that allows the EU to target individuals, entities and bodies – including state and non-state actors – responsible for, involved in or associated with serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide.
In February last year, the European Parliament pushed for sanctions against individuals and organisations responsible for human rights violations in the country under the EU sanctions regime, following the 2021 General Election.