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Dr. Stella Nyanzi. Photo credit: Kampala Dispatch.

The Ugandan academic and gender and queer rights advocate Stella Nyanzi has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after being found guilty of cyber harassment against the country’s 33-year-ruling President Yoweri Museveni. She has been in prison for nine months now, having been arrested, first in October 2018, for a Facebook post she made, a poem critical of President Museveni and his mother Esteri Kokundeka, which starts:

Yoweri, they say it was your birthday yesterday.

How bitterly sad a day!

I wish the smelly and itchy cream-coloured candida festering in Esiteri’s cunt had suffocated you to death during birth.

Suffocated you just like you are suffocating us with oppression, suppression and repression!

The Guardian reports that, in court in Kampala, the magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu called the poem “offensive and vulgar. The use of obscenity cannot be justified in any society. It didn’t matter who the post was referring to.”

Nyanzi declined a chance to address the court in order to reduce her sentence, saying: “Send me to Luzira [maximum security prison]. I am proud [of what] I told a dirty, delinquent dictator. I want to embolden the young people. . . I want them to use their voices and speak whatever words they want to speak.” She then staged a nude protest. There is a video on Twitter.

If she does not appeal the decision, she will be in prison for nine more months.

On the morning of her court appearance, Nyanzi posted a poem on Facebook titled “I Was Already Condemned before I Came In.”

The post in full:

I WAS ALREADY CONDEMNED BEFORE I CAME IN.

I did not come to your court for Justice.

I came to continue poking the leopard’s anus.

 

I did not enter your Court for legal battle.

I was already condemned before I came in.

 

I did not come seeking for a fair trial.

I came to this Court for Politics.

 

Looking to David with his sling and 2 stones.

This underdog came to fight and win.

 

I refused your offers of a seat in the suspects’ Dock.

I never asked you for bail.

 

I boycotted Court when you denied me a Court order for my medical records in jail.

I maintained my silence when you refused to translate the amended charges into Luganda.

 

I asked you to recuse yourself from my case.

I asked you to issue an arrest warrant for the Director of CID.

 

My presence in your Court as a suspect and prisoner highlights multiple facets of dictatorship.

I exposed the entrenchment of autocracy.

 

I confirmed the curtailing of free expression.

I demonstrated State punishment for regime critics.

 

I showcased the tyrant’s abuse of the judiciary.

I witnessed myriads of injustices of the justice system.

 

I never came to your Court seeking for justice.

I came to your Court to play the game of politics.

 

I refuse to be a mere spectator in the struggle to oust the worst dictator.

The human rights defender Mwafrika Mbarikiwa Nana told The Guardian: “Each time I visited her in prison, her spirit was not broken. She was always jolly and she always smiled. Her fellow prisoners love her and look up to her. Even prison warders treat her fairly. One of them confided in me that: ‘Doctor [Nyanzi] is a very OK woman’.”

Joan Nyanyuk, Amnesty International director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, called the verdict “outrageous,” saying that it “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.”

For her criticism of the President and the First Lady and Education & Sports Minister Janet Museveni, Nyanzi, a mother of three, has endured professional, political, and legal harassment in the country, and has been in and out of jail, but mostly in, where she has suffered a miscarriage. In June, she reached 222 days in prison.

Nyanzi now has two more court cases: she sued for the violation of her rights to movement following her placement on a no-fly list; and she sued Makerere University for sacking and not reinstating her, despite the university appeals tribunal’s direction to the contrary. The ruling for the case against Makerere University has been fixed for 16 October.

You can support the social media movement for Stella Nyanzi’s freedom with these hashtags: #PushforStellaNyanzi, #FreeStellaNyanzi, #DropTheCharges, #SukumaKwaStellaNyanzi, #BamuweEddembeLye.

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Otosirieze is Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. He is a judge for the 2018/19 Gerald Kraak Prize and the 2019 Miles Morland Writing Scholarships. He is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He combined English and History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is completing a postgraduate degree in African Studies, and taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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