Stella Nyanzi faces four years in jail

Former Makerere University research fellow Dr Stella Nyanzi is likely to spend the next four years in jail over cyber harassment and offensive communication against President Yoweri Museveni.

Cyber harassment elicits a maximum sentence of three years, while offensive communication is one year. Grade One Magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu yesterday closed the case without Nyanzi’s defence, leaving the prosecution’s evidence levelled against her unchallenged.

The prosecution produced three witnesses, including Charles Dalton Opwonya, a lawyer, who implored Nyanzi to refrain from vulgar posts, saying they are not good for public consumption and are against Buganda culture.

The prosecution alleges that on September 16, 2018, Nyanzi posted on her Facebook page indecent words against the President and his late mother Esteeri Kokundeka. According to the State, the posts were intended to disturb their peace and right to privacy.

On April 10, 2017, Nyanzi was also charged in the same court with the same offences, but her trial never kicked off.

“Court is aware the accused is at liberty to call witnesses to defend herself. However, this is the seventh time the matter is coming up for defence hearing in vain. Therefore, the court takes it that the accused has no witness and it is left with no choice but to close the close,” Kamasanyu ruled.

Nyanzi, who has been on remand since November last year, was last month ordered to defend herself against the allegations. However, she opted to remain silent and summon witnesses to defend her. Nyanzi listed over 20 witnesses, including President Yoweri Museveni, who is said to be the complainant.

Others were Criminal Investigations Director Grace Akullo, Dr Ronald Kakungulu Mayambala, Eng. Frank Kitumba, Mustapha Mugisha, Dr Sylvester Kahyana, Dr James Ociti, Dr Susan Kiguli and Prof. Abas Kiyimba. She also listed Dr Sylvia Tamale, the co-ordinator of gender, law and sexuality at Makerere University; Prof. Fredrick Jjuuko, Allan Tacca, Solomy Nakaweesi, Bishop Zac David Niringiye, Fr. Gaetano Batanyenda and Mildred Apenyo, a daughter of Opwonya.

However, the court declined to summon the President, saying a president cannot be compelled to appear before it. Even when the court closed her case without defence, Nyanzi yesterday remained in a jovial mood and was seen taking notes at various intervals.

Last Monday, Barnabas Mustapha Mugisa, a private certified hacking forensic investigator, appeared in court but declined to testify in the matter, saying he does not understand the case. Immediately, after the ruling, defence lawyers Isaac Ssemakadde and Derrick Bazzekuketta said the ruling did not surprise them, saying the court has been expressing utmost bias on their side.

Outside court, Ssemakadde told journalists that the judgment, which is slated to be given on August 1, is going to be clouded by the dust of conflict because the magistrate has allegedly shielded over 15 potential defence witnesses by her act of closing the defence case. The case has been adjourned until July 23, when the prosecution is expected to make its final submissions in the matter

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Lukwago Joseph grew up in a newspaper family, and rumor has it that instead of playing the guitar in his infancy, his parents put a reporter’s notebook and a pen next to him shortly after he turned born eight years. Before becoming editor of UGANDANZ, Lukwago was a parliament news editor for WBS TV. He joined UGANDANZ in July 2018, A few months after the company launched. Lukwago also spent five years as a freelance reporter, where he covered reporting for the highest bidder, intelligence, foreign policy, and Ugandan police. Lukwago graduated from Makerere University in 2008 with a B.A. in Journalism and worked on his college newspaper.