Friday June 02, 2017

Woman faces psych evaluation for calling Uganda's president 'a pair of buttocks'

Stella Nyanzi stands in the dock at court in Kampala, Uganda, after she posted profanity-filled denunciations of president Yoweri Museveni on Facebook.

Stella Nyanzi stands in the dock at court in Kampala, Uganda, after she posted profanity-filled denunciations of president Yoweri Museveni on Facebook. (James Akena/Reuters)

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Stella Nyanzi has been jailed, surveilled, and had her children subject to police interrogation at school — all because she criticizes Uganda's president on Facebook.

"If it wasn't so dire, I would be laughing about it," she told As It Happens host Carol off.

The professor and human rights activist is currently living in a safe house with her three children after serving a five-week stint in a maximum-security prison on charges of offensive communication and cyberharassment.

Her crime? Calling Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni a "pair of buttocks."

"What other words are there for me to use?"  Nyanzi — who is known for her colourful language — told As It Happens host Carol Off. "The best metaphor to use was one around waste and spoiling and dirt and pollution."

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Stella Nyanz during her trial on April 10 for cyber-harassment and offensive communication. Despite five weeks in maximum-security prison, she says she will continue to speak out. (Gael Grilhot/AFP/Getty Images)

Now that she's out on bail, state prosecutors are demanding she be subject to psychiatric evaluation, claiming she must be insane for criticizing the president.

"The accusations, the suggestions that I could be mentally ill or of unsound mind, I think that that is a ploy, a scheme, a trick, a strategy to intimate, to silence," she said.

"I don't think it's just the metaphor that got me into so much trouble with the state. I think it's the power of the metaphor to mobilize ordinary citizens in Uganda who are tired, just so tired, weary and tired of the  powerlessness we find ourselves faced with.

"Taking me to maximum security just shows how fragile, how scared our government is. What can words do to a man who's been in power for 31 years?"

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Yoweri Museveni has been the president of Uganda since 1989, and Stella Nyanzi considers him 'a tyrant.' (James Akena/Reuters)

Museveni  first came to power in 1989 and and has often been revered as "a darling of the West" because Uganda's economy and education rates grew under his leadership, while poverty and HIV rates declined.

However, in more recent years, he has come under fire for his intolerance for dissent and allegations of corruption. He drew widespread international condemnation in 2014 for signing into law a bill that punishes gay sex with up to life in prison.

"I cringe at the idea that the model for leadership for Africa is Museveni," Nyanzi said.

"The duplicity of our Western partners is shocking because they are aware of our failed democracy. They are aware of our failing economy. But they continue to praise him as a model. A model for what? For more failure? Do we want more failing African states?"

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President Yoweri Museveni poses with British Prime Minister Theresa May May 11, 2017, in London. Nyanzi says that by supporting Museveni, the West is complicit in his wrongdoings. (Hannah McKay/Getty Images)

Nyanzi uses her Facebook daily to take Museveni and his government to task.

She drew widespread condemnation when she criticized Ugandan Education Minister Janet Museveni, the president's wife, for failing to deliver on her husband's campaign promise to provide sanitary pads to schoolgirls who miss school when they menstruate.

Nyanzi urged her 150,000 subscribers to stop using the minister's popular nickname — Mama Janet — and started a campaign to raise funds for the pads.

For her efforts, not only has Nyanzi been arrested, but she believes her phone has been tapped and her Internet shut off by Ugandan officials. Her children, she said, have been interrogated by armed police officers at school.

That's why supporters have set her up at a safe house until this latest controversy dies down. But she has no intention of shutting up.

"I think that language is the only bullet to bring Goliath down," she said. "If dirty language is the only weapon left to us, I mean, let's use it."