Ugandan authorities have charged Stella Nyanzi, an ex-research fellow at Makerere University’s Institute for Social Research, with cyber harassment for a birthday poem she wrote and posted on Facebook for President Yoweri Museveni. The poem which was posted on Facebook on 16 September 2018, led to Nyanzi's arrest on 2 November 2018.
Subsequently, Nyanzi appeared in court during May 2019 to answer to the charges of cyber harassment and offensive communication.
“I wish the acidic pus flooding Esiteri’s (the president’s mother) vaginal canal had burn up your unborn foetus. Burn you up as badly as you have corroded all morality and professionalism out of our public institutions in Uganda," wrote Nyanzi in the poem.
This is not the first time that Nyanzi has come head-to-head with Ugandan authorities. Nyanzi has been repeatedly harassed, arrested and detained, simply for speaking out against the government. In February the University of Makerere terminated her employment having suspended her in 2016.
What has also come to light during January 2019, is that Nyanzi suffered a miscarriage while at Luzira Prison.
“Stella Nyanzi has been criminalized solely for her creative flair of using metaphors and what may be considered insulting language to criticize President Museveni’s leadership. The mere fact that forms of expression are considered insulting to a public figure is not sufficient ground to penalize anyone. Public officials, including those exercising the highest political authority, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition. This verdict is outrageous and flies in the face of Uganda’s obligations to uphold the right to freedom of expression for all people in Uganda and demonstrates the depths of the government’s intolerance of criticism. It must be quashed and Stella Nyanzi, who has already suffered enormously for expressing her opinions, let to get on with her life," said Joan Nyanyuki, Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes at Amnesty International, in response to the guilty verdict for Nyanzi on the charge of cyber harassment of President Yoweri Museveni.
Stifling freedom of speech
Over the years it appears authorities in Uganda have been bent on suppressing freedom of speech online. Whether it is through Internet restrictions and shutdowns, or through the introduction of a social media tax, political leaders in Uganda always seem to find ways to suppress freedom of speech online by Ugandans.
The arrest of Nyanzi for a poem posted on Facebook is one of many such attempts.
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“The Ugandan authorities must scrap the Computer Misuse Act 2011 which has been used systematically to harass, intimidate and stifle government critics like Stella Nyanzi," concluded Nyanyuki.