In a cacophonous sentencing filled with profanity and nudity, a Ugandan court has found activist Stella Nyanzi guilty of cyber harassment for posting a poem on Facebook that harshly criticized President Yoweri Museveni.
Nyanzi was sentenced Friday to 18 months in Luzira Women's Prison, in suburban Kampala. She has already served nine months while awaiting trial.
Magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu said she opted for a prison sentence rather than a fine because Nyanzi showed no remorse, and because incidents of cyber harassment are on the rise.
During the heated hearing Friday, Nyanzi, who appeared in the courtroom via a video feed from the maximum-security prison where she's been held, repeatedly shouted profanities and flashed her breasts, with prison guards standing behind.
Supporters in the courtroom responded to her ongoing acts of defiance with applause. Nyanzi said she gladly accepted the punishment, adding that she was born for this moment.
Controversy and support
Nyanzi has become an international celebrity, and her case has become a rallying cry for free speech activists, feminists and opponents of Uganda's longtime ruler.
Supporters of Nyanzi believe the Ugandan government is seeking to silence criticism of the president under the guise of enforcing good conduct online. Still, Nyanzi's crude poetry and outrageous behavior have divided public opinion, with some feeling she goes too far.
Many people think that her words should not be accepted, said Rosebell Kagumire, editor of Africanfeminism.com, a platform for feminist writers from the continent. So, Stella in a way that challenges the morality, (the) moral fabric of society (and) what people hold to be moral shakes this up and says, 'No, we can say these words and can use them to shock, and use public insults against people in power.'
Kagumire said Nyanzi is being charged under Uganda's 2011 Computer Misuse Act, a law ostensibly intended to protect people from online harassment and threats that has instead been used to muffle government critics. Kagumire said the law is being challenged in the constitutional court.
It kind of brings back this aspect of sedition that, actually, someone in power can jail people for offending them, which should be protected speech, she said.
Nyanzi received a vote of support from Amnesty International.
Stella Nyanzi has been criminalized solely for her creative flair of using metaphors and what may be considered insulting language to criticize President Museveni's leadership, said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty's director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes. Public officials, including those exercising the highest political authority, are legitimately subject to criticism and political opposition.
Source: Voice of America