On November 2, 2018, authorities reportedly arrested Dr. Stella Nyanzi, a research fellow at Makerere University, on charges of “cyber harassment” and “offensive communication,” apparently in retaliation for her social media activity. If convicted, she could face up to one year imprisonment and a fine.
Dr. Nyanzi is a prominent scholar and activist in Uganda who has long been publicly critical of country’s president. In April 2017, Dr. Nyanzi was arrested on the same charges she currently faces for Facebook posts criticizing president Museveni. She was further suspended from her position and placed under a travel ban for the posts.
On September 16, 2018, Dr. Nyanzi published a post to her Facebook account. In the post, Dr. Nyanzi reportedly insulted president Museveni’s late mother and suggested that the country might have been in a better situation had president Museveni died during labor. The post was circulated widely and picked up by news media.
Authorities arrested Dr. Nyanzi on November 2 and taken to the headquarters of the Special Investigations Division, where she was then informed of the charges against her. While a court offered to release Dr. Nyanzi on bail, she refused and stated that she would like to see the case move forward. Dr. Nyanzi’s first hearing is scheduled for November 22.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arrest and prosecution of a scholar in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Uganda is a Party. State authorities have a responsibility not to retaliate against or restrict such rights, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, arbitrary arrests and prosecutions in retaliation for expressive activity undermine freedom of expression and democratic society generally.
On August 1, 2019, Dr. Nyanzi was found guilty of cyber harassment, but acquitted of the crime of offensive communications. She was sentenced the following day to 18 months in prison.