Uganda Jails Feminist Critic For ‘Cyberharassment’ Of President On Facebook

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Dr. Stella Nyanzi

(Trice Edney Wire/GIN) – A prominent university lecturer, poet and gender rights activist has been ordered to serve nine more months in prison for the crime of criticizing President Yoweri Museveni on Facebook.

The sentence outraged rights activists. Joan Nyanyuki, director for East Africa at Amnesty International said: “This verdict flies in the face of Uganda’s obligations to uphold the right to freedom of expression. It “demonstrates the depths of the government’s intolerance of criticism.”

Dr. Stella Nyanzi, a former research fellow at Makerere University in Kampala, drew the government’s wrath for posting comments including one that compared President Museveni to “a pair of buttocks.”

When the decision was announced on Thursday, the scholar gave a passionate speech in which she expressed disappointment with that verdict.

“I intended to annoy Yoweri Museveni. We are tired of his 30 year-long dictatorship. Please find me guilty of offensive communication against Yoweri Museveni Kaguta!” After the sentencing, she lifted her blouse and shook her breasts in a cultural expression of disrespect for the viewer. The audience of women cheered loudly.

Dr. Nyanzi, who has been in jail since November, was acquitted on a second charge, of “offensive communication”.

“The mere fact that forms of expression are considered insulting to a public figure is not sufficient ground to penalize anyone,” the Amnesty representative underscored. “Public officials, including those exercising the highest political authority, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.”

Kenyan photojournalist Boniface Mwangi, writing on Twitter, weighed in: “The Museveni court has jailed Stella Nyanzi but you cannot jail someone who is already free. Stella Nyanzi is artistically free, intellectually free and she is fighting to liberate Uganda from tyranny. She has used the court as a platform for political education.” Her campaigns on issues such as demanding sanitary pads for schoolgirls and gay rights have made her a divisive figure in a country where homosexual acts are illegal.

The troublesome Facebook posts contain profanity-laced vitriol about the president and his wife in a style known as “Radical Rudeness” and the “Necessity of Political Vulgarity” —a traditional Ugandan strategy for unsettling the powerful through the tactical use of public insult.

“Know our rich history before you think I am the first fighter with words,” Dr. Nyanzi wrote in one post.

“My presence in your Court as a suspect and prisoner highlights multiple facets of dictatorship. I exposed the entrenchment of autocracy. I refuse to be a mere spectator in the struggle to oust the worst dictator.”

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