The Ugandan authorities must immediately drop charges against radical academic Stella Nyanzi and put a stop to the charade that has seen her spend weeks in jail, Amnesty International said today as her case finally went to trial.
The charges levelled against Stella Nyanzi under the Computer Misuse Act are in direct contravention of Uganda’s constitution and its international human rights obligations to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to freedom of expression.
“Stella Nyanzi has been repeatedly harassed, arrested and detained, simply for daring to speak out against the government. These latest charges relating to Facebook posts in which she criticized President Yoweri Museveni and First Lady Janet Museveni, are yet another callous attempt to silence her,” said Roland Ebole, Amnesty International’s Uganda researcher.
“We are calling on the Ugandan authorities to drop these absurd charges and ensure that she is able to enjoy her human rights without any fear of intimidation or arrest.”
The Ugandan authorities must also scrap the Computer Misuse Act 2011 – a repressive law has been used to systematically harass, intimidate and stifle government online critics.
The Makerere University academic was arrested on 2 November at a police station where she had gone to notify officers of a protest she was planning to hold at the university.
This is the second time she has been charged with insulting the president and violating his right to privacy.
Nyanzi says her Christmas safe in prison
“I think you have not seen anything if you have not been to prison,” Nyanzi said.
“By the way, I’m serious; you should pray that they imprison you then you can say you have lived a complete life.”
When she returned to court this week, Nyanzi was further remanded to Luzira Prison after she objected to the cybercrime charges on grounds that they are defective and cannot stand.
Dr Nyanzi, through her lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde, told Buganda Road Magistrate’s Court presided over by Gladys Kamasanyu that the particulars of the charges against her do not disclose the precise offence she committed, thereby rendering the charges bad in law.
“The counts are a duplication of each other. Cyber harassment which details three descriptions of obscene or indecent in respect to the Facebook post at issue dated September 16, 2018. Each of their description would independently constitute an offence under the law,” Mr Ssemakadde argued.
The court heard that combining the descriptions in one count is a prejudice to Dr Nyanzi and leads to an incurable illegality.
Ssemakadde has now asked the court to dismiss and strike off record the charges against his client for being grossly defective, bad in law and set her free.
While appearing in court on November 9, Dr Nyanzi declined to apply for bail.
The prosecution contends that on September 16, Dr Nyanzi posted on her Facebook page suggestions deemed obscene against the president’s deceased mother Esteri Kokundeka.
The case was pushed to January 10, 2019 for the state to respond.