SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: July 13, 2020

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Makerere University

Region & Country:Eastern Africa | Uganda

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On July 13, 2020, police arrested prominent scholar-activist, Stella Nyanzi, and two Makerere University students during a protest over the apparent killing of a university student.

Nyanzi and the two students, whose names were not disclosed, reportedly marched to Parliament in order to present a petition demanding justice for Makerere student Emmanuel Tegu, who was apparently killed under unclear circumstances on June 27. More than ten individuals were arrested in connection with Tegu’s death.

During the protest, Nyanzi and the students held placards that read “Justice for Tegu” and “Ugandans’ lives matter,” and demanded access to Parliament to deliver their petition. Police on the scene reportedly prevented protesters from entering Parliament, confiscated their placards, and ordered them to leave. As protesters dispersed, police arrested Nyanzi and the two students.

News reports do not indicate the official basis for their detention, nor do they describe Nyanzi or the students engaging in violent activity. According to one Twitter account, Nyanzi and the students were arrested on charges of “common nuisance” and “inciting violence;” however, this has not been confirmed by other sources. The same Twitter account also reported that Nyanzi and the two students had been released. It is unclear whether the three face charges.

Nyanzi has been arrested several times in connection with her activism and public criticism of government leaders, including Uganda’s president (see reports here). Days before the most recent incident, Nyanzi was reportedly arrested during a protest over the ongoing closing of an arcade due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the arrest of a scholar and students in connection with their nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly—conduct that is expressly protected by 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 an obligation to refrain from restricting or retaliating against nonviolent expression and assembly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.