Calls to drop charges against outspoken academic

Human rights group Amnesty International has called for all charges to be dropped against outspoken Ugandan academic Stella Nyanzi who was last Wednesday released on bail after spending four weeks in prison on charges related to Facebook criticism of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

“It is a great relief that Dr Stella Nyanzi is no longer behind bars,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region, reacting to her release.

“The government’s attempt to prosecute her for speaking out for the rights of Uganda’s women and girls, is an affront to freedom of expression,” Jackson said.

“The authorities must now let common sense prevail by immediately and unconditionally dropping all the charges against her. The continuation of this farcical case blatantly violates Uganda’s constitution, and its regional and international human rights obligations.”

Nyanzi, a 42-year-old research fellow at Makerere University, appeared in court in the capital Kampala last Wednesday morning looking frail, activists said. She was physically assisted to a waiting vehicle after the bail hearing.

The charges against her under the Computer Misuse Act of 2011 are based on her social media statements, including one where she referred to the 72-year-old Museveni as “a pair of buttocks”. She denies any wrongdoing.

She had also criticised the First Lady and Education Minister, Janet Museveni, for her ministry’s failure to provide sanitary towels to all girls in public schools. This was a promise made by Museveni as he campaigned for a fifth term in office in 2015.

Nyanzi’s next court appearance will be on 25 May, according to court documents. According to local media reports, the prosecution has filed an application seeking an evaluation of Nyanzi's mental status before the case commences.

In power since 1986, Museveni secured his latest term in office last year in an election that observers said lacked credibility and transparency, Reuters news agency reported.