Ugandan queer and women’s rights activist Stella Nyanzi is being kept in prison to prevent her criticising government, her supporters say.
Nyanzi was arrested on April 7 under the Computer Misuse Act of 2011 and charged with cyber harassment after referring to President Yoweri Museveni as “a pair of buttocks”. With a court date set for April 25, Nyanzi remains in Kampala’s Luzira Maximum Security Prison.
Nyanzi initiated the #Pads4Girls campaign to raise funds so that girls who could not afford sanitary towels did not miss school.
Taking to her Facebook page, Nyanzi criticised Minister of Education Janet Museveni (who is also the country’s first lady) for stating that the government did not have the funds, despite the president promising a budget allocation for sanitary towels for schoolgirls as part of his re-election campaign.
“The charge of computer misuse by calling by the president a pair of buttocks is a ridiculous charge, because the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of speech,” says Ruth Muganzi, who is co-ordinator of the campaign.
“All of this is being done to reduce Stella’s access to the internet so that she can’t criticise the government. Criticising the government is something so many people are afraid of doing.
“In a country like this, where so many people live off less than a dollar a day, to have our minister of education saying that girls who are menstruating should stay out of school or parents should pack lunch for their children, because schools shouldn’t have to provide lunch, is wrong.
“In doing that, they are asking people to live way outside their means. It is wrong and it needs to be criticised,” says Muganzi.
Nyanzi’s Facebook post criticising the first lady included lines such as “the poisonous snake is wife to a tyrant who abandoned Uganda’s poor citizenry, in preference to thickening the bellies of a few kin”.
Muganzi says: “Stella is simply saying what so many people are thinking: that this system is very broken.”
In addition to the online #FreeStellaNyanzi campaign, support for Nyanzi has come in from concerned human and women’s rights activists globally, she says.
Florence Maina is a Kenyan women’s rights activist and member of The Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians.
“Stella is important to every African woman who understands where we have come from as a continent. In a world where people are comfortable with the status quo, she chooses what is right by speaking out against injustices. That’s what Uganda, Africa and the world needs,” says Maina.
The prosecution has requested that Nyanzi undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
“That they are attempting to undergo a psychiatric examination without her consent is a total abuse of her personal dignity. This is pure oppression and very dehumanising.
“Stella is merely an advocate for such basic needs for the Ugandan children: pads for schoolgirls, food, human dignity. She is what we in Kenya once had. She is the Wangari Maathai of Uganda.”
Muganzi says: “We visited her in prison last Wednesday and she is generally in good spirits.
“Her major concern was whether the #Pads4Girls campaign was continuing. That was all she was concerned about. She also spoke about how she had started teaching inmates mathematics and literature.
“You see, even in prison, she is trying to create the change we want to see.”
Carl Collison is the Other Foundation’s Rainbow Fellow at the Mail & Guardian.