Amnesty International has called for the immediate release of regime critic Dr.Stella Nyanzi who was arrested for criticizing the President and the First Lady on Facebook.

In a press statement, the rights body’s Regional Director for East Africa, Muthoni Wanyeki, argues that Nyanzi’s prosecution violates Uganda’s obligations regarding the right to freedom of expression under the country’s Constitution, as well as regional and international human rights law.

“A Ugandan university lecturer who criticised the President and his wife on Facebook must be released immediately and unconditionally, said Amnesty International today, after she was charged in court with insulting the President and violating his right to privacy under the Computer Misuse Act of 2011.

Her prosecution also violates Uganda’s obligations regarding the right to freedom of expression under the country’s constitution, as well as regional and international human rights law”, reads the statement.

Dr Stella Nyanzi, a single mother of three, has repeatedly criticised President Yoweri Museveni and the First Lady Janet Museveni, who is also the Education and Sports Minister, for the government’s failure to fulfil its commitment to provide sanitary pads to all schoolgirls. The feminist academic was arrested on 7 April. She pleaded not guilty in court today and was remanded in custody until 25 April.

Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said:

“Lack of sanitary towels is one of the leading causes of girls dropping out of school in Uganda. Dr Nyanzi has led a campaign to ensure girls continue to attend school with dignity during their periods and, instead of commending her, the authorities have harassed, intimidated and now arrested her.

“Arresting Nyanzi simply for criticising the President and his wife serves no legitimate purpose. The state should stop wasting resources on pointless and politically-motivated prosecutions, immediately drop all charges against her and release her unconditionally.

“The Authorities must also immediately revoke the Computer Misuse Act, and respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to freedom of expression of all Ugandans.”

The charges are based on Nyanzi’s social media statements, including one where she referred to President Museveni as, amongst other things, “a pair of buttocks.”

“Public officials should tolerate more criticism than private individuals. Laws that have the intention or effect of prohibiting insulting the head of state or public officials are disproportionate, unnecessary and have a chilling effect on freedom of expression”, reads the statement.

 

Nyanzi was on Monday charged with offensive speech and cyber harassment against the country’s president. The root of this controversy is sanitary pads for schoolgirls.

According to the charge sheet, Stella Nyanzi used her computer in February to post to her Facebook page an insulting message about President Yoweri Museveni, allegedly calling him a “pair of buttocks,” among other things.

This is the third time Nyanzi has been detained in relation to these alleged postings, but it is the first time she has been charged with a crime. The state says she has willfully and repeatedly used electronic communication to post offensive online messages intended to disturb or attempt to disturb the peace.

Before the fully packed courtroom, state attorney Jonathan Muwaganya called for Nyanzi to undergo a mental health evaluation.

“Your Honor, if the order being sought through this application is not granted and it is established that the suspect is a psychiatrical case then it will lead to continued reputational damage of her victims and the general public,” said Muwaganya.

Her lawyer Semakadde Isaac dismissed the state’s accusations.

“The defense prays in submission that this court is pleased to ignore the application of the State for an inquiry into the insanity or other incapacities of the accused person as it was made under wrong law and that the court be further pleased to invoke the right law to hear the accused person on bail,” said Issac.

In February, Nyanzi took to Facebook to collect donations of sanitary products for schoolgirls after the first lady said the government could not afford to supply them. President Museveni had promised on the campaign trail last year to provide sanitary pads for girls in need.