Ugandan feminist Stella Nyanzi deploys nude protest to challenge free speech sentence

Stella Nyanzi is found guilty of cyber harassment for a poem she wrote criticizing the president in 2018. Screenshot from NTV Uganda, August 1, 2019, via YouTube.

On August  2, a court in Kampala headed by magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu sentenced feminist scholar and writer Dr. Stella Nyanzi to 18 months in prison after being found guilty of of cyber harassment—though innocent of offensive communication— under the Computer Misuse Act.

Nyanzi, known for using “radical rudeness” as a form of political protest, has been in prison for nine months after writing and posting on Facebook that criticized Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. The poems makes several graphic references to Museveni's deceased mother's vagina and labia.

The magistrate stated that Nyanzi must serve nine more months in prison, where she has been held since November 2018. The sentence was read in absence of the activist, who refused to remain on a video conference after staging a nude protest in defiance. She accused the court of not affording her a fair hearing.

On August 1, when Nyanzi was convicted, she gave more than 20 minutes of testimonial submission to the court, reiterating that she had no remorse and wouldn't beg for forgiveness. On her Facebook page, she published a poem where she declared: “I did not enter your Court for legal battle/I was already condemned before I came in.”

I WAS ALREADY CONDEMNED BEFORE I CAME IN.I did not come to your court for Justice.I came to continue poking the…

Geplaatst door Stella Nyanzi op Donderdag 1 augustus 2019

During the sentencing Nyanzi staged a nude protest and shouted obscenities, flashing her breasts on screen:

Here are snippets from Stella Nyanzi's defiant testimony in court which may have been edited out of other newsfeeds:

‘My children are protesters’

I could talk about my children because very many mothers would say ‘Oh, I have children who are minors, please don’t send me to jail.’ Your honour, I will not say that. My children celebrate my virtuous action. My children are protesters I have trained to freely express themselves. My children are taken care of by Ugandans who believe in ideals that espouse.

‘Speaking in the language of vaginas’

I will sacrifice motherhood to whatever altar I have to sacrifice motherhood to…I was born for this moment. I will speak to dictators even if it means speaking in language of vaginas.

‘We are tired of dictatorship’

I am disappointed that you don’t find me guilty of offending the president. I plan to offend Yoweri Museveni Kaguta because he has offended us. Find me guilty of offending the dictator. I planned to offend Yoweri Museveni Kaguta because he has offended us for 30-plus years. Find me guilty of cyber harassment, find me guilty of anything else, but please find guilty of offensive communication against Yoweri Museveni Kaguta! Find me guilty of offending Yoweri Museveni Kaguta because that’s what serious mothers in Uganda should be doing. We are tired of the dictatorship.

‘I don't repent for anything’

I paid for my freedom of expression. I don’t repent for anything. I celebrate that one woman was bold enough to deploy a dead woman’s vagina. Send me to Luzira if my crime is [to tell] a dirty delinquent dictator that he is a dictator and that Ugandans are tired. And I wish his mother’s vagina hadn't squeezed him out.

‘Youth want to use their voices’

You say I am giving young people poison instead of food, giving them stones instead of bread, but the youth want to use their voices and speak whatever they have to speak. How do we teach young people in Uganda to remain silent, your honor?

‘The internet must be protected’

The internet must be protected. The public media has been silenced. How many of us can afford OTT? I use a weapon that I paid for and I will not allow the dictatorship to tell me what words to say to the dictatorship. If it is a dirty vagina that gets the attention of the dictatorship, emana ewunyawunya ejjakukola (the dirty vagina will work).

I don’t beg for forgiveness. I don’t beg for lenience. I will survive.

A wave of chaos — and support

A massive display of support for Nyanzi flooded social media as her defiant acts of protest continued during the sentencing, many using the hashtag #FreeStellaNyanzi

Amnesty International issued a statement in support of Nyanzi, saying:

Stella Nyanzi has been criminalized solely for her creative flair of using metaphors and what may be considered insulting language to criticize President Museveni’s leadership.

A packed courtroom turned chaotic after an empty water bottle was thrown at the presiding magistrate. Many young activists showed up in support of Stella Nyanzi along with key political opposition groups with an interest in protecting freedom of expression and free speech in Uganda:

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