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Uganda charges, jails academic for insulting the president

April 10, 2017

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — A prominent academic in Uganda was remanded to a maximum-security prison Monday after being charged with insulting the country’s longtime president.

Stella Nyanzi, a postdoctoral research fellow at Uganda’s Makerere University, was charged with cyber harassment and offensive communication Monday. She denied the charges and said President Yoweri Museveni is a “dishonorable” man who has “offended the people of Uganda.”

Amnesty International urged Ugandan authorities to free Nyanzi, a single mother of three.

“Arresting Nyanzi simply for criticizing the president and his wife serves no legitimate purpose,” Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s regional director, said in a statement. “The state should stop wasting resources on pointless and politically-motivated prosecutions, immediately drop all charges against her and release her unconditionally.”

Nyanzi is popular on Facebook for her relentless criticism of Museveni, who has ruled since 1986 and who is increasingly accused of planning to rule this East African country for life. Nyanzi frequently writes that Uganda is under “despotic family rule.”

The charge sheet said Nyanzi had referred to Museveni as “a pair of buttocks” in one of her Facebook posts. In remarks before a packed courtroom in the capital, Kampala, Nyanzi said she often writes metaphorically in her efforts to “speak truth to power.”

She is expected back in court on April 25 after prosecutors said they wanted her to undergo a mental examination that her lawyers indicated they would resist.

In Uganda mental exams are usually reserved for suspects accused of crimes such as statutory rape.

The case against Nyanzi is being widely followed in this East African country where few people dare to publicly criticize the first family in bold terms.

Nyanzi, who trained as a medical anthropologist, often uses sexual imagery to underscore her points on Facebook, leading many in this conservative country to accuse her of obscenity. But her fans say she is an honest activist who is using her literary skills to highlight the government’s failures.

On Facebook Nyanzi has repeatedly rebuked First Lady Janet Museveni, who also serves as education minister, for saying the government has no money to buy sanitary napkins for poor schoolgirls, although the president had promised to budget for them while he campaigned for re-election last year. Many Ugandan girls reportedly drop out of school because of the shame they feel for lacking sanitary pads.

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