A prominent Ugandan academic has bared her breasts and screamed obscenities in protest as a magistrate sentenced her to 18 months’ prison on controversial charges of “harassing” President Yoweri Museveni.
The verdict against Stella Nyanzi on Friday drew the ire of rights activists who accused the government of using laws about electronic communications to stifle political dissent.
Nyanzi, a university lecturer and researcher who once called Museveni “a pair of buttocks”, is expected to serve nine months in prison after having already spent nine months behind bars.
Appearing in a Kampala court via video link, Nyanzi raised her middle fingers and yelled profanities in defiance as she was sentenced, before flashing her breasts as her supporters whooped and cheered.
A plastic bottle was hurled at the magistrate as police tried to restore order.
“Dr Stella was very upset that she was not allowed to appear in court physically and instead appeared by video link,” her lawyer, Isaac Semakadde, told AFP news agency.
“There has been lack of transparency in this trial.”
A second charge of “offensive communication” was dropped against Nyanzi, who has vowed not to relent in her barbed criticism of Uganda’s long-serving ruler.
“I planned to offend Yoweri Museveni Kaguta, because he has offended us for 30 plus years,” she told the courtroom on Thursday before being found guilty.
“We are tired of a dictatorship.”
Her offence stemmed from a Facebook post last year in which she said she wished Museveni, 74, had been burned up by the “acidic pus” in his mother’s birth canal.
Prosecutors described the post as a “brutish attack on the person of the president and his late mother”.
In a statement on Friday, Joan Nyanyuki, director for East Africa at human rights group Amnesty International, said: “This verdict is outrageous and flies in the face of Uganda’s obligations to uphold the right to freedom of expression … and demonstrates the depths of the government’s intolerance of criticism.”
The verdict should be quashed and Nyanzi, who has been in jail since November last year, freed immediately, she said.
“The Ugandan authorities must scrap the Computer Misuse Act… which has been used systematically to harass, intimidate and stifle government critics.”
Ugandan pop star turned leading opposition figure Bobi Wine, who has announced his intention to challenge Museveni in 2021 elections, defended Nyanzi’s right to challenge “dictatorship, corruption and nepotism”.
“The same courts which have… defended and shielded the champions of these ills have no moral authority to talk about morals,” he posted on his Twitter account on Thursday.
Today, Dr. Stella Nyanzi was convicted of cyber harassment! For using 'immoral words' against dictatorship, corruption and nepotism. The same courts which have severally defended and shielded the champions of these ills have no moral authority to talk about morals. #Solidarity pic.twitter.com/jz5yQgHpac
— BOBI WINE (@HEBobiwine) August 1, 2019
A research associate at Kampala’s prestigious Makerere University, Nyanzi holds a doctorate on sexuality in Africa and has defended her visceral attacks against Museveni and his family.
In 2017, she told AFP that “so-called vulgar words are sometimes the best way to get your message across”.
In her most recent post, she wrote a poem about her court case: “My presence in your court as a suspect and prisoner highlights multiple facets of dictatorship. I exposed the entrenchment of autocracy.”
Earlier this year Uganda‘s Supreme Court upheld a decision to remove an age cap of 75 for presidential contenders, paving the way for Museveni – who has ruled since 1986 – to run again.
Critics say Museveni is increasingly becoming intolerant of dissent as resistance to his rule grows.