Professor Stella Nyanzi
The United States has warned Uganda about the right to “freedom of expression” and is monitoring the arrest of an academic who has been charged with “cyber harassment” after she attacked the country’s dictator Gen. Yoweri Museveni and his wife Janet for corruption on social media postings.
Professor Stella Nyanzi was arrested Friday and made a court appearance Monday in Kampala, the country’s capital.
“We are aware of the charges brought against Professor Stella Nyanzi,” a U.S. State Department official told The Black Star News this afternoon. “The United States has been clear regarding freedom of expression, including in Uganda. A society that is free, vibrant, and successful depends on the free flow of information and ideas.”
In the U.S. President Trump himself has gained notoriety over his social media postings and has 27.6 million followers. Dr. Nyanzi has 129,185 followers on her Facebook page and 9,356 on Twitter.
In recent weeks Dr. Nyanzi has escalated her criticism of Gen. Museveni and Janet Museveni, who doubles as the country’s education minister, saying the couple reneged on an election campaign promise to provide free sanitary pads to Ugandan school girls. Many can’t afford the sanitary pads and are forced to miss classes during their monthly cycles. In February, Mrs. Museveni, as education minister told the country’s Parliament the country couldn’t afford to provide the sanitary pads.
Referring to Mrs. Museveni, in one of her social media postings, Dr. Nyanzi wrote, “Who is Janet? She is not a mother. A mother should provide pads for our girls. There are billions of shillings that have been embezzled by this regime. How dare could she say [that] government has no money to buy sanitary towels for our girls in their menses.”
The United States is a major donor to the Ugandan regime, with $750 million annually. Gen. Museveni, who has been in power for 31 years has in the past been criticized for purchasing a $50 million Gulfstream jet for his private use. He was also heavily criticized last year when his regime blocked access to social media including Facebook and Twitter during presidential elections. Dr. Kizza Besigye the challenger claims he won the elections and accused Gen. Museveni of rigging.
Dr. Nyanzi was recently suspended from her teaching post at Uganda’s prestigious Makerere University. She was also interrogated by the country’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the police and blocked from leaving the country after she was invited to an academic conference in Holland before finally being arrested last week.
In another posting, on Facebook, Dr. Nyanzi referred to Mrs. Museveni as “empty-brained,” and to Gen. Museveni as “a pair of buttocks.”
During her appearance before a judge Monday, Dr. Nyanzi pleaded not guilty to the cyber harassment charges, saying: “Your honor, I write a lot on my social media. I use metaphors in my writing. I am a writer and I use language as a tool. I have called His Excellency a rapist of the constitution. I have called him impotent. All those are metaphors. However, your honor, I am not guilty of cyber harassment.”
She also denied the “computer misuse” charge, saying: “Your honor, I have not offended the president. Ugandans are the ones who are offended. He makes promises to provide sanitary pads to girls and he doesn’t deliver them. But, your honor, I am not guilty of computer misuse.”
Dr. Nyanzi had also launched a GoFundMe campaign to purchase reusable sanitary pads for Ugandan school girls.