KAMPALA, UGANDA - An Ugandan judge charged a university researcher Monday with offensive speech and cyber harassment against the country’s president. The root of this controversy is sanitary pads for schoolgirls.
According to the charge sheet, Stella Nyanzi used her computer in February to post to her Facebook page an insulting message about President Yoweri Museveni, allegedly calling him a “pair of buttocks,” among other things.
This is the third time Nyanzi has been detained in relation to these alleged postings, but it is the first time she has been charged with a crime. The state says she has willfully and repeatedly used electronic communication to post offensive online messages intended to disturb or attempt to disturb the peace.
Before the fully packed courtroom, state attorney Jonathan Muwaganya called for Nyanzi to undergo a mental health evaluation.
“Your Honor, if the order being sought through this application is not granted and it is established that the suspect is a psychiatrical case then it will lead to continued reputational damage of her victims and the general public,” said Muwaganya.
Her lawyer Semakadde Isaac dismissed the state’s accusations.
“The defense prays in submission that this court is pleased to ignore the application of the State for an inquiry into the insanity or other incapacities of the accused person as it was made under wrong law and that the court be further pleased to invoke the right law to hear the accused person on bail,” said Issac.
In February, Nyanzi took to Facebook to collect donations of sanitary products for schoolgirls after the first lady said the government could not afford to supply them. President Museveni had promised on the campaign trail last year to provide sanitary pads for girls in need.
Nyanzi has publicly and colorfully criticized the first family and the government over the issue.
As many as a third of girls in the country have to miss school because they cannot afford sanitary products, according to government statistics.
At the time of her arrest Friday, Nyanzi, who holds a PhD in medical and cultural anthropology, had just finished giving a talk on menstruation. She entered a plea of not guilty Monday.
“He makes promises of sanitary pads to girls. He goes against the promise. Yoweri Museveni is offending Ugandans and we are silent and those of us who dare to speak truth to power are called the offenders. I am happy to take on the mantle of insanity if this mantle is going to be the only time that the regime will be told about its offense to the people of Uganda and therefore I am not guilty of offensive communication,” she said.
The judge ordered Nyanzi to return in two weeks to apply for bail.