Rapid Action Network

PEN International is deeply concerned at the detention and conviction of Dr. Stella Nyanzi for “cyber harassment” under section 24 of Uganda’s Computer Misuse Act, 2011, in relation to a poem she wrote on Facebook criticising Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni (and his mother). PEN believes Dr. Nyanzi has been prosecuted for her peaceful expression and calls on the Ugandan authorities to release her from prison immediately and unconditionally and to quash her conviction at her upcoming appeal hearing on 25 September 2019.

Dr. Nyanzi was charged in November 2018 with “cyber harassment” and “offensive communication” under sections 24 and 25 of the Computer Misuse Act, 2011; she was convicted of the first charge and acquitted of the second charge on 1 August 2019. She was sentenced the following day to 18 months in prison. The prosecution is appealing against the acquittal on the charge of “offensive communication”, which will also be heard on 25 September. As she has already spent nine months in prison, she is set to serve out the remaining time.

TAKE ACTION! 

Please send appeals to the Ugandan authorities: 

  • Expressing concern at the conviction and sentence imposed on Dr. Nyanzi, calling on them to release her immediately and unconditionally and overturn her conviction at her appeal hearing on 25 September 2019;
  • Calling on them to repeal or amend the Computer Misuse Act (2011), which has been used to clamp down on dissent, to ensure full conformity with Uganda’s freedom of expression obligations under international law;
  • Urging them to comply with their obligations to protect freedom of expression as enshrined in the Ugandan Constitution and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Uganda is a state party.

Send appeals to:

Mr. Mike Chibita Director of Public Prosecutions Directorate of Public Prosecutions Workers House, Plot 1 Pilkington Road Kampala, Uganda mike.chibita@dpp.go.ug

Major General (rtd) Kahinda Otafiire Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Bauman House, Plot 5, Parliament Avenue P. O. Box 7183 Kampala, Uganda Fax: +25641254829 Email: info@justice.go.ug

Please copy your appeals to the Embassy of Uganda in your country. A list of embassies can be found here.

Please reach out to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic representatives in Uganda, calling on them to raise Dr. Nyanzi’s case in bilateral fora.

Please inform PEN International of any action you take and of any responses you receive.

**** Please contact us if you are considering taking action after 25 September 2019 ****

Publicity 

PEN members are encouraged to:

  • Publish articles and opinion pieces in your national or local press highlighting the case of Stella Nyanzi and freedom of expression in Uganda;
  • Share information about Stella Nyanzi and your campaigning activities via social media;
  • Share on Facebook, Twitter and other social media under the hashtags#PushForStellaNyanzi, #FreeStellaNyanzi

Please keep PEN International informed of your activities. 

Solidarity

Solidarity is a key component of our campaign. Dr Nyanzi would welcome letters, cards and books from PEN members and supporters. If you would be interested in sending her something, please get in touch at: lianna.merner@pen-international.org

Please also consider holding a solidarity event where you mention and draw attention to the case of Dr. Nyanzi

Please do not use political symbols or send political content.

Background 

Writer, academic and feminist activist, Dr. Stella Nyanzi is a fierce, public critic of Uganda’s President Museveni. She is a practitioner of “radical rudeness,” a traditional Ugandan strategy for unsettling the powerful through the tactical use of public insult. Her use of language is often colourful and sometimes shocking: some of the messages she posted on Facebook imply that Uganda would have been better off if the president had died at birth and include strong, graphic descriptions of Museveni’s mother’s birth canal. At her sentencing hearing on 2 August 2019, which Dr. Nyanzi attended via video link, she bared her breasts in protest and lamented the fact that the “offensive communication” charge was dropped, saying that she wished to annoy the President.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, which oversees the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), has made clear that the ‘mere fact that forms of expression are considered to be insulting to a public figure is not sufficient to justify the imposition of penalties.’ Human rights bodies have also pointed out that Heads of State and public figures should tolerate a higher degree of criticism than ordinary citizens.

At the first trial hearing on 9 November 2018, Dr. Nyanzi was remanded into custody at Luzira Women’s Prison, in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, where she has been ever since. She has said that she has suffered health problems while in prison. The American Bar Association, which monitored the trial, voiced concerns about violations of the right to prepare a defence, including the abrupt closure of the defence case by the presiding magistrate.

Dr. Nyanzi was previously arrested and charged with the same offences in April 2017, also in connection with Facebook posts about President Museveni. According to her lawyer, this trial has been stayed pending the outcome of a petition launched in May 2017 by Dr. Nyanzi in Uganda’s Constitutional Court, challenging the validity of Uganda’s 1938 Mental Treatment Act.

Violations of free expression in Uganda are rampant. Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 Press Freedom Index downgraded the country, ranking it 117 out of 180 countries (having previously ranked it 112 in 2017 and 102 in 2016).  Ugandan authorities have used colonial era laws such as criminal defamation to restrict dissent and have enacted new ones, such as the Computer Misuse Act of 2011, to clampdown on online criticism. PEN International opposes criminal defamation laws in all cases, and denounces the abuse of civil defamation laws to stifle free expression. Several recent measures to regulate social media have furthered restricted the space for online expression. A social media tax, passed in 2018, has reportedly led many Ugandans to abandon social media, and in August 2019, a week after Nyanzi’s conviction, the Uganda Communications Commission decided to charge ‘social media influencers’ a $20 fee and make them register with the state regulator.

For more information, please contact Lianna Merner, Africa Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, Unit A, 162-164 Abbey St, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: lianna.merner@pen-international.org