A Ugandan university lecturer who criticized the President and his wife on Facebook must be released immediately and unconditionally, said Amnesty International today, after she was charged in court with insulting the President and violating his right to privacy under the Computer Misuse Act of 2011.
Her prosecution violates Uganda’s obligations regarding the right to freedom of expression under the country’s Constitution, as well as regional and international human rights law, adds the statement.
Dr Stella Nyanzi, a single mother of three, has repeatedly criticized President Yoweri Museveni and the First Lady Janet Museveni, who is also the Education and Sports Minister, for the government’s failure to fulfill its commitment to provide sanitary pads to all schoolgirls.
The feminist academic was arrested on 7 April. She pleaded not guilty in court today and was remanded in custody until 25 April.
“Lack of sanitary towels is one of the leading causes of girls dropping out of school in Uganda. Dr Nyanzi has led a campaign to ensure girls continue to attend school with dignity during their periods and, instead of commending her, the authorities have harassed, intimidated and now arrested her,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
“Arresting Nyanzi simply for criticising the President and his wife serves no legitimate purpose. The state should stop wasting resources on pointless and politically-motivated prosecutions, immediately drop all charges against her and release her unconditionally.
“The Authorities must also immediately revoke the Computer Misuse Act, and respect, protect, promote and fulfill the right to freedom of expression of all Ugandans.”
The charges are based on Nyanzi’s social media statements, including one where she referred to President Museveni as, amongst other things, “a pair of buttocks.”
"Dr Stella Nyanzi has been charged with cyber-harassment and offensive communication (and) using her Facebook posts to disturb President Museveni's privacy, which she denies," her lawyer Nicholas Opiyo told the AFP news agency.
"Dr Nyanzi is within her constitutional rights and we are for an all-out legal battle with the state to defend her rights." Opiyo added.
Public officials should tolerate more criticism than private individuals. Laws that have the intention or effect of prohibiting insulting the head of state or public officials are disproportionate, unnecessary and have a chilling effect on freedom of expression.
"The state should stop wasting resources on pointless and politically-motivated prosecutions, immediately drop all charges against her and release her unconditionally," - Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International's Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes
Dr Nyanzi’s arrest comes less than two months after she started criticizing Mrs Museveni, as education minister, for the government’s failure to provide sanitary pads to all schoolgirls. This was a campaign promise made by her husband as he campaigned to extend his three-decade rule two years ago.
Mrs Museveni told parliament on 14 February that the government had no money to buy sanitary towels.
Dr Nyanzi also organized a public fundraising drive to buy sanitary towels for girls in school, which has collected thousands of dollars and gained widespread publicity among Ugandans at home and abroad.
On 6 March, police questioned Nyanzi for her critical comments against President Yoweri Museveni and the First Lady, and prevented her from boarding a plane to The Netherlands, a week later, to attend an academic conference.
In a rare TV interview on 30 March, the First Lady said she had forgiven her, but Nyanzi was then arrested days later.
Meanwhile, a prominent journalist was kidnapped and interrogated by unidentified people for several hours on 8 April shortly after she was threatened for her social media posts in support of Dr Nyanzi.
Gertrude Tumusiime Uwitware said she was abducted and driven blindfolded to a secret location where she was interrogated for hours. Police have condemned her kidnapping and said they are investigating.