The Ugandan Police are holding novelist Rukirabashaija Kakwenza on allegations of offensive communication after a series of tweets about popular individuals that detectives are yet to name.
Kakwenza, famous for his novel The Greedy Barbarian, is being held in an undisclosed location and neither his lawyers nor his relatives have been able to access him.
Kakwenza was this year named the International Writer of Courage at the PEN Pinter Prize ceremony. The award is given to someone who has been persecuted for speaking out about their beliefs.
Police spokesperson Fred Enanga said Kakwenza is being held on charges of offensive communication under the Computer Misuse Act.
“The cybercrime department is investigating him for offensive communication,” Commissioner of Police Enanga said yesterday.
His alleged tweets reportedly comment about issues including military personality, human rights and management of government resources.
Armed men raided Kakwenza’s home at Kisaasi, Nakawa Division in Kampala City, and arrested him on Tuesday.
“Currently under house arrest. Gunmen are breaking into my house by force,” he tweeted about his arrest.
Mr Kakwenza’s lawyer Eron Kiiza said they have moved to different police stations to trace him in vain.
“Every police station we go to, they [police] say the case is too big for them to handle. So we haven’t been able to access him,” Mr Kiiza said.
Mr Kiiza said they were told that the suspect is being held by officers at the Directorate of Crime Intelligence in Bukoto.
“We searched for Kakwenza Rukirabashaija yesterday (Tuesday) until we authoritatively established his detention at Crime Intelligence (offices), Bukoto. Unsurprisingly, the police have blocked all Kakwenza Rukirabashaija’s lawyers, doctors and family,” he said.
This is the third time he is being arrested. In all incidents, Kakwenza has claimed that he was tortured. He was arrested in April and September 2020.
Three years ago, the Inspector General of Police Martins Okoth-Ochola issued directives that officers must observe human rights and freedom of suspects, including allowing them to access their relatives and legal representatives as provided in the Constitution.
Since 2015, the security forces have been tough on social media users that make offensive comments against the ruling government or its officials. Ugandans, who criticise or participate in demonstrations, including those in the diaspora, are also charged when they return home.
According to Section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act 2011 on offensive communication: “Any person who wilfully and repeatedly uses electronic communication to disturb or attempts to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication whether or not a conversation ensues, commits a misdemeanour and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty-four currency points or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.”
Twenty four currency points is an equivalent of Ush480,000 ($135.46).