Critic of Ugandan President Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison

A critic of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will spend the next nine months in prison after being convicted of cyber harassment.

Makerere University researcher Stella Nyanzi has been jailed since November 2018 for her harsh online criticism of Museveni. She wrote a poem in which she wished that Museveni had died at childbirth.

On Friday, Magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu sentenced Nyanzi to 18 months in prison, with credit for time served.

Supporters of Nyanzi jeered and hurled insults at the magistrate as she read her decision. But Kamasanyu pressed on, describing Nyanzi as unremorseful and asserting that the right to freedom of speech is not absolute.

“At times, the damage that has been occasioned to the victims or the complainant cannot be reversed, the magistrate said. In this particular case, a whole president of this country was not spared. He fell victim. And in this matter, therefore, the convict is hereby sentenced to an imprisonment term of nine months.”

As soon as she completed her ruling, the magistrate was hit by a plastic bottle thrown from the court audience.

Nyanzi was arrested two months after she published her poem on Facebook on Sept. 16, 2018, a few days past Museveni’s 74th birthday.

In it, she condemned Museveni’s 33-year rule and said he should have died at childbirth. She used words such as nauseatingly disgusting, bitterly sad, horrifically cancerous and morbidly grave to describe his birthday.

Nyanzi, who appeared before the court through a video conferencing system, did not stay calm, throwing all manner of obscenities and baring her breasts in protest.

‘What is happening to justice?’

“Why are you muting my volume? she asked. Why did you bring me to this place without my consent? What is happening to justice in Uganda? Is this the sort of justice that works for us? A magistrate who is too cowardly to call my complainant?”

By the end of her trial, Nyanzi’s lawyers were no longer appearing in court.

One of them, Isaac Ssemakadde, described the ruling as unlawful, unjustified and not backed by a valid conviction.

Ssemakadde told VOA the 18-month sentence was plainly harsh and excessive for the offense.

“Sentences for offenses based on freedom of expression must be relatively short to recognize the importance of freedom of expression, despite the harm if any that may be perceived by any sector of the public, he said. There was no evidence led to show any statistics regarding computer misuse in this country.”

Prosecutors throughout the trial insisted that Nyanzi’s post and words directed at Museveni and his late mother were intended to disturb their peace or right to privacy.

Nyanzi still faces other charges of cyber harassment and offensive communication stemming from her post in which she referred to Museveni as a pair of buttocks.

Source: Voice of America