Amnesty International, a global Human Rights body has called on the Uganda government to unconditionally release arrested Makerere University researcher Stella Nyanzi.
The global rights body also urged government to drop all charges against her, for what it called ‘pointless prosecutions’.
“The state should stop wasting resources on pointless and politically-motivated prosecutions, immediately drop all charges against her and release her unconditionally,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes
“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,” Wanyeki added.
“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 fulfill the right to freedom of expression of all Ugandans.”
She added that 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,” Ms Wanyeki wrote.
The reaction came shortly after Dr. Nyanzi was remanded to Luzira prison up to April 25 over charges based on her social media statements, including one where she referred to President Museveni as, amongst other things, ‘a pair of buttocks’. Nyanzi was arrested on April 7, and produced in court on April 10. She pleaded not guilty and was remanded in custody.
Dr Stella Nyanzi, a single mother of three, has repeatedly criticized President Yoweri Museveni and the First Lady Janet Museveni, who is also the Education and Sports Minister, for the government’s failure to fulfill its commitment to provide sanitary pads to all schoolgirls.
This was a campaign promise made by President Museveni as he campaigned to extend his three-decade rule two years ago. But Mrs Museveni told Parliament on February 14 that the government had no money to buy sanitary towels.
Dr Nyanzi also organized a public fundraising drive to buy sanitary towels for girls in school, which has collected thousands of dollars and gained widespread publicity among Ugandans at home and abroad.
On March 6, police questioned Nyanzi for her critical comments against the President and the First Lady, and a week later barred her from boarding a plane to The Netherlands to attend an academic conference. Interestingly, in a rare TV interview on March 30, the First Lady said she had forgiven her, but Nyanzi was then arrested days later.