Stella Nyanzi. Credit: Kampala Dispatch.

Dr Stella Nyanzi is free. The academic, feminist and queer rights advocate has been in prison for criticising Uganda’s long-serving president Yoweri Museveni. She was found guilty of “cyber harassment” against President Museveni in August 2019 and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Nyanzi, through her lawyers, appealed her conviction and sentence, citing unfairness and that the trial court erred in law.

A Federal High Court sitting in Kampala has now ordered her release from Luzira Prisons. Justice Henry Peter Adonyo, who presided over the ruling, noted that Buganda Road trial magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu, who had earlier sentenced Nyanzi, had no jurisdiction to convict her of cyber harassment, and ordered her “immediate release.”

The case was further dismissed for lack of sufficient evidence as, Justice Henry observed, “Prosecution did not as well ascertain the kind of device which was used to send as the digital prints were not presented before Buganda road.” In addition, the court agreed that Dr Nyanzi and her lawyers were not allowed enough time to prepare their defense thus amounting to unfairness.

Daily Monitor reports that the court room was full, with mostly supporters of Nyanzi, and erupted in celebration. On Twitter, there are short clips from the scene and posts confirming Nyanzi’s release.

However, Dr Nyanzi is yet to regain actual freedom. According to the Ugandan writer Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire, there was a brief clash outside the courtroom between prison officials who insisted that Nyanzi return to jail to “fulfill formal release procedures” and her supporters who simply wanted her to go home. In the midst of the chaos, Dr Nyanzi collapsed and the prison warders drove her in her unconscious state back to, likely, the Luzira Women’s Prison. Policemen, he said, were “shooting live bullets at court to ‘contain the situation.'”

Her seeming re-arrest was widely condemned on social media, with many calling for her immediate release and urging state authorities to respect court orders.

Awarded the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International Award for Freedom Expression, Stella Nyanzi remains stoic in her opposition to tyranny. Her collection of poetry, No Roses From My Mouth, was released early this month from Ubuntu Reading Group, while she was still in jail.

Brittle Paper is standing with Stella Nyanzi.