War of words between government and American ambassador on Nyanzi case
Makerere University Researcher and social activist Dr. Stella Nyanzi is expected at Buganda Road Court today May 10 for a hearing in which her lawyers will respond to the state’s application to inquire into her mental status.
Dr Nyanzi is expected to appear before Buganda Road Chief Magistrate James Mawanda Ereemye, who earlier denied her bail.
High Court Judge Elizabeth Kabanda on April 26 ruled that it will only be after the outcome of this application, that Nyanzi ‘s right to apply for bail will be considered.
During the April 27 hearing, Justice Kabanda faulted trial Chief Magistrate Mawanda for taking Dr.Nyanzi’s plea on charges of Offensive Communication, and then declining to entertain her bail application when she was produced before him on April 10.
The judge however said that the magistrate had powers to hear the mental status application, and its against this background that she has declined to strike it out as requested by Dr.Nyanzi’s lawyers.
In her ruling Justice Kabanda said High Court will hear the bail application after knowing the outcome of the application on Nyanzi’s mental health status, which can only be heard by the Magistrate’s court.
The Criminal division of the High Court had recalled Nyanzi’s case file from Buganda Road Chief Magistrate’s Court following an appeal by her lawyer, Isaac Kimaze Semakadde.
According to one of Dr. Nyanzi’s lawyers Nicholas Opiyo, the mental treatment act is unlawful and wants the High Court to quash it.
In another twist to the case, reports indicate her legal team has now petitioned the Constitutional Court, challenging the validity of the Mental Treatment Act. In the petition, Nyanzi’s lawyers argue that sections 1 to 6 of the Act, which provide for an inquiry into the person’s state of mind, adjudication of insanity, admission to mental hospital and compulsory detention of a person suspected to be of unsound mind, contravenes the Uganda constitution.
The reports indicate she is seeking a court order, staying the proceedings brought by the State against her until the Constitutional Court determines her application.
Nyanzi was arrested on April 7, 2017 soon after she made a presentation at a Rotary event in Kampala, and has been on remand at Luzira since. She is alleged to have tampered with the peace and privacy of Uganda President Yoweri Museveni between January and March this year, when she willfully and repeatedly used electronic communication to post offensive messages via Facebook.
She faces two counts of Cyber Harassment and Offensive Communication contrary to the Computer Misuse Act 2011.
— Michael O’Hagan (@micoh) April 27, 2017
Press Freedom and Dr Stella Nyanzi
Meanwhile, government has criticized US Ambassador Deborah Malac’s remarks made on the World Press Freedom Day on May 3 2017, saying Dr Stella Nyanzi is in jail in a criminal case, and not because she is a champion of free speech.
“Government of Uganda takes exception over a litany of negative and non-factual or conjured accusations by the US Ambassador Deborah Malac made on the 3rd May 2017″ a statement signed by the Executive Director of Uganda’s Media Centre Ofwono Opondo stated.
“While giving her thoughts during the World Press Day, Ambassador Malac made over the board statements to the effect that the Uganda government suffocates freedom of expression and harassing those involved in the profession. Malac cited the case of Makerere University lecturer Dr Stella Nyanzi, who was arrested and charged before competent courts of law under the Computer Misuse Act 2011, calling her the champion of free speech. Misuse of computer and internet is a crime in Uganda, as well as many jurisdictions around the world.” READ FULL STATEMENT BELOW
Malac had said, “Today, unfortunately, these freedoms are increasingly under attack – around the world and here in Uganda. We all know the story of Dr. Stella Nyanzi. Whether or not you agree with her message or her tactics – and certainly, many do not – she is still entitled to express her opinion. As Uganda’s constitution states, every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, as well as the right to freedom of thought, conscience and belief.”