A Ugandan author who had spent nearly a month in jail after criticising President Yoweri Museveni has fled the country, his lawyer has said.
Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, an internationally acclaimed writer, was released from jail in late January after being arrested in late December for communications offences related to a series of tweets he posted about Museveni and his son, an army general.
Rukirabashaija fled Uganda across the land border with Rwanda and will settle at least temporarily in an unnamed European country, Eron Kiiza told The Associated Press news agency.
“Conditions had become impossible for him,” he said of Rukirabashaija. “They kept surveilling him. They took away his passport. He had no option but to go and save his life.”
Police spokesman Fred Enanga said he could not comment on Rukirabashaija’s matter since it was in court.
The novelist, who last year won the PEN Pinter Prize for international writers of courage, is best-known for “The Greedy Barbarian”, a novel about corruption in a fictional country widely interpreted as a satire on Museveni.
Rukirabashaija alleged that he was tortured by officials while in detention, and photographs of his mutilated back shocked many in the East African country.
“They started using a pair of pliers and plucked flesh from my thighs and everywhere,” Rukirabashaija said in an account to the local Daily Monitor newspaper.
“That day I thought I was dying and thought of denouncing my Ugandan citizenship.”
Chief magistrate Douglas Singiza had refused to relax Rukirabashaija’s bail conditions, which included a hold on his passport and an order not to speak to journalists.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Rukirabashaija addressed Singiza as a “bespectacled pigheaded magistrate”, writing: “You’re a disgrace! Now, put my passport in the dock and try it. I won’t face you again”.
Rukirabashaija was kept incommunicado for much of the time he was held in a detention facility, Kiiza said previously, and only appeared in court after widespread domestic and international pressure, including from the United States and the European Union.
The European Union’s delegation to Uganda on Monday issued a statement expressing concern over “a situation that for more than a year has seen a significant increase of reports of torture, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, harassment” and other attacks.
Last week the US cited “recurring credible accounts” of forced disappearances and torture by the security forces which “reflect poorly” on the government of President Yoweri Museveni, who has held power since 1986.