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Uganda: Academic and activist Stella Nyanzi released on bail for free speech charges


This statement was originally published on on 11 May 2017.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the news that after 33 days in jail, the Buganda Road Magistrates Court today released Stella Nyanzi, an academic, activist, and poet, on bail. However, she continues to face charges under the Computer Misuse Act, in violation of her right to freedom of expression.

Nyanzi was arrested and charged on 7 April under Sections 24 and 25 of the Computer Misuse Act 2011, allegedly for harassing and using indecent language against the President and the first family online. She had posted criticism of the President on her Facebook page, and now faces three year and one year prison sentences, respectively, under the charges.

Nyanzi appeared visibly unwell at the court hearing. While she will now be released, she is required to attend her next court hearing on the charges on 25 May 2017.

Responding to the release, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Director Henry Maina said: “We are extremely pleased to hear that Stella Nyanzi has been released on bail, but disappointed that the charges against her remain. Her prosecution for comments posted online violates her right to freedom of expression and should be immediately dropped.”

“We call on the Ugandan government to drop all charges against Dr Nyanzi and other artists and journalists being prosecuted for exercising their freedom of expression, and to reform the Computer Misuse Act to bring it into line with international standards.”

Following the court hearing, four students from Makerere University were arrested outside the Court for demonstrating against Nyanzi's prosecution and held at Kampala Central police Station.


Editorial notes:

The sections of the Computer Misuse Act provide as follows:

24. Cyber harassment. (1) A person who commits cyber harassment is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding seventy two currency points or imprisonment not exceeding three years or both.

(2) For purposes of this section cyber harassment is the use of a computer for any of the following purposes—

(a) making any request, suggestion or proposal which is obscene, lewd, lascivious or indecent;

(b) threatening to inflict injury or physical harm to the person or property of any person; or

(c) knowingly permits any electronic communications device to be used for any of the purposes mentioned in this section.

25. Offensive communication. Any person who willfully and repeatedly uses electronic communication to disturb or attempts to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication whether or not a conversation ensues commits a misdemeanour and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty four currency points or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.

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