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BIG STORY: Stella Nyanzi flees into exile, alleges persecution

Dr. Stella Nyanzi and Dr. Kizza Besigye (PHOTO/Courtesy).

Ugandan academic cum political activist, Dr Stella Nyanzi, has fled to Nairobi, Kenya.

This was confirmed by her lawyer, Prof George Luchiri Wajackoyah, who cited political persecution by President Yoweri Museveni’s government for the move.

Dr Nyanzi, a former research fellow at Makerere University who ran for Kampala Woman MP seat in last month’s general election, arrived in Nairobi by bus on Saturday.

Her lawyer, Prof George Luchiri Wajackoyah, in an interview said she is seeking political asylum in Kenya.

“The abductions and detentions of political actors were getting closer to me, my children have been targets of police trailing, I just left prison in February last year and I don’t want to go back,” Dr Nyanzi told Nation.Africa in a telephone interview.

She crossed the Uganda-Kenya border “in disguise” to avoid detection by security agents. Her children are also “in a safe house” in Nairobi.

The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) candidate came third in the January 14, 2021 parliamentary elections won by National Unity Platform (NUP) candidate, Shamim Malende.

Stella Nyanzi practices what scholars have called “radical rudeness,” which is a traditional Ugandan strategy of calling the powerful to account through public insult.
Researchers say it was developed during the colonial era, as “a rude, publicly celebrated strategy of insults, scandal mongering, disruption, and disorderliness that broke conventions of colonial friendship, partnership, and mutual benefit.

She has campaigned for the rights of Ugandan women, youth, and LGBTQIA+ people.

On 6 March 2017, Stella Nyanzi launched the Pads4girlsUg Project, due to her concerns about girls missing school because they could not afford menstrual products. She collected thousands of re-usable pads and distributed them to school girls and also offered lectures to school children about menstrual health.

In March 2017, Stella Nyanzi referred to the President Museveni as “a pair of buttocks.”

On 7 April 2017, Stella Nyanzi was arrested and detained by police at Kiira Police Station on charges of cyber harassment and offensive communication.

On 10 April 2017, she was thereafter produced in court, where she was charged with the misuse of a computer, cyber harassment, and abusing the president under section 24, and 25 of the Computer Misuse Act of 2011.

She was then remanded to Luzira State Penitentiary.

On 11 April 2017, doctors from Butabika Hospital were asked to carry out a psychiatric assessment examination to determine whether she was insane, as the government prosecutor was alleging. However, she resisted the examination and requested that her personal doctor and at least one family member should be present if they want to carry out a medical test on her.

On 10 May 2017, she was released on a 10 million Ugandan shillings (US$2924) non cash bail.

In October 2018, she was remanded to prison.

She did not request bail because she believed she was safer in jail and because she wanted to continue her education work with the women in prison.

In December 2018, her lawyer attacked the charges as unlawful.

In January 2019, she asked that her court date be delayed as she was ill and had suffered a miscarriage in prison.

The international press has called her “one of Africa’s most prominent gender rights activists,” “a leading scholar in the emerging field of African queer studies,” and a leader in the fight against “repressive anti-queer laws” and for “freedom of speech.”

Her scholarship has provided “insight into the effects of patriarchy, misogyny and homophobia in Uganda, The Gambia, and Tanzania.”

Some consider her arrest as having more to do with her status as a gay ally than other factors.

An international outcry followed Stella Nyanzi’s arrest, with human rights groups condemning the act as a violation of academic freedom and freedom of expression. Amnesty International called for Uganda to drop the “absurd charges” against her. Pen International, the writer’s organization, also condemned her arrest. Human Rights Watch condemned her arrest as “an indicator that those who express critical views of the Ugandan government, especially the first family, can face its wrath.”

International news agencies have reported on the reasons for her arrest as political. NPR reported that her arrest was for giving hope “that the powerless can take on the powerful.”
The Washington Post reported that her arrest was for being an “outspoken anti-Museveni activist.”

Al Jezeera English reported that her arrest was due to Museveni’s plans to rule for life and his intolerance of critics.

The Canadian Globe and Mail reported that her arrest was “at the heart of it all it [about] her imaginative use of language and her fierce defiance of the perceived limits for Ugandan women.”

The Guardian reported that her “attack on her government’s refusal to fund sanitary wear for girls led to a successful crowdfunding campaign, and prison.”

In Uganda, she has a large number of supporters, with the largest social media following of any Ugandan.

Many collected food for her in prison. Ugandan scholars have praised her as standing up against “our tormentors.”

Her lawyer Isaac Kimaze Semakadde was named “most outstanding public interest litigation lawyer in Uganda” by the Uganda Law Society, in part for his work on this case.

In Uganda, “strong cultural taboos against talking openly and graphically about sex and sexuality” exist and “homosexuality is illegal and sex education is banned in schools.” However, Nyanzi speaks “openly – and colourfully – about sex, genitalia and politics. For this, she is adored by many of her fellow citizens but viewed with distaste by some of Uganda’s more conservative elements.”

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