Uganda: Life in Prison Better Than Partial Freedom - Stella Nyanzi

Stella Nyanzi returns to Makerere University.
27 February 2019

Sacked Makerere University researcher Dr Stella Nyanzi says she is willing to stay in detention until the courts dispose off charges of cyber harassment and offensive communication filed against her.

As such, Nyanzi said she will not apply for bail anytime soon and will if the opportunity arises instead asked court to send her back to prison, where she says, she wants to stay throughout the trial in order to avoid disruption of her freedom.

Nyanzi was arrested last year in November in relation to a boorish birthday poem she posted on social media on September 16, 2018, a day after President Yoweri Museveni's 74th birthday. The poem was crafted in vulgarity targeted at Museveni's late mother Esteeri Kokundeka.

The prosecution alleges that on September 16, 2018... . Nyanzi used a computer to post statements wishing that Museveni should have died at the time of his birth and that she willfully and repeatedly used electronic communication to post similar messages which disturbed the peace, quiet or right of privacy of President Museveni.

Nyanzi pleaded not guilty to the charges. However, she said that as a poetess, she used the metaphor to portray her criticism against the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) government and that she found it ridiculous that the president would be offended by a poem that made reference to his mother.

Now Nyanzi says that the trial erodes the rights and freedom of suspects by burdening them to report back to prison and to the courts all the time.

"Leaving prison without knowing your fate is a total disturbance. It's an illusion of freedom. I am now enjoying it here and feel like I am on leave because I am not doing anything," Nyanzi said in an interview with URN in Luzira.

Nyanzi added that she wanted to use her stay in prison to write some literature. However, her plan was frustrated when prison authorities became suspicious of what she was writing. Anything written from within prison is reviewed by the prison authorities for approval.

Ahead of the much-anticipated hearing of the case, the director of Criminal Investigations Unit, Grace Akullo wrote to the presidential private secretary asking her to authorize a relevant person to make a statement on behalf of Museveni. State House is yet to respond to the request.

This is not the first time Nyanzi is accused of offensive communication and cyber harassment. In April 2017, she was charged at Buganda Road Magistrate's court for cyber harassment and offensive communication contrary to provisions of the Computer Misuse Act.

At the time, she was charged for calling Museveni 'a pair of buttocks' which prosecution stated that was an obscene or indecent suggestion. She was at the time remanded to Luzira prison for two weeks and later released on bail.

During this time, the High court sanctioned a request by the prosecution to conduct a mental health examination to ascertain her mental status. However, Nyanzi rushed to the Constitutional court contesting the order on the ground that it was based on impugned sections of the 1938 Mental Treatment Act. Nyanzi has since obtained an injunction from the High court blocking the mental examination.

Nyanzi rose to fame in 2016 after staging a nude protest at Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) following a controversy between her and Prof Mahmood Mamdani, the institute's director.

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