Lawyers representing Makerere University lecturer Stella Nyanzi have protested a move by the state to subject her to medical examination to establish her sanity under a 1938 colonial law.
The academic, a strong critic of the government of President Yoweri Museveni was Monday afternoon remanded to Luzira prison until April 25 after she pleaded not guilty on two counts of cyber harassment and using offensive language against President Yoweri Museveni, contrary to sections 24 and 25 of the Computer Misuse Act 2011.
Nyanzi has been in police detention since Friday April 7 when she was arrested in Kampala shortly after she had been a guest speaker to a Rotary Club fellowship.
Her troubles stemmed from post she made on her Facebook page in which she attacked First Lady Janet Museveni on government’s failure to see through a campaign promise by President Museveni to provide sanitary pad for school going girls.
President Museveni made the promise during campaigns for re-election in the 2016 polls but no money has been provided in the budget.
But in a surprise move, Ms Museveni who is also Minister for Education was not named on the charge sheet. Instead, her husband the President is.
The state alleges in the two charges that the offences were committed against the President.
A hashtag created out of a statement in the charge in which Dr Nyanzi is accused of offending the person of the President by referring to him as a “pair of buttocks” quickly shot to the top of the most trending within hours of its being set up.
Other hashtags; #FreeStellaNyanzi, #Museveni and the NTV program #Tuwaye on which Dr Nyanzi was interviewed in a recoded programme played on Sunday were the top trending items on Uganda .
In the first count, prosecution alleges that “Dr Nyanzi on January 28, 2017 at Kampala District or thereabout used a computer to post on her Facbook page “Stella Nyanzi” wherein she made a suggestion or proposal referring to His Excellence Yoweri Kaguta Museveni as among others “a pair of buttocks” which suggestion/ proposal is obscene or indecent.”
In the second count, prosecution states that Dr Nyanzi “between January 2017 and march 2017 in Kampala district wilfully and repeatedly used electronic communication to post messages offensive in nature via Facebook, transmitted over the Internet to disturb or attempted to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of His Excellency the president of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni with no purpose of legitimate communication.
Dr Nyanzi’s lawyers led by Nicholas Opio protested what they said was an ambush after the state applied for Dr Nyanzi to be detained and subjected to mental examination under the Mental Treatment Act on 1938.
State prosecutor Jonathan Muwaganya presented an affidavit from a police officer to back the application saying that Dr Nyanzi needed to be subjected to examination and treatment based on her conduct observed during the period of her detention and previous conduct including stripping naked in public.
In response, Mr Opio protested the application noting that neither the accused nor her lawyers had been given prior warning that it would be made.
“From the outset, I want to state that we will not be responding to the merits of this application,” Mr Opio said. “This application is brought in bad faith, nether the accused nor her lawyers had an inkling that this application would be made, usually a courteous state prosecutor takes it upon itself to inform the other side but this was tossed to us as we sat in court intended to deny the accused an opportunity to enter plea …we object to such conduct.”
Isaac Semakadde, another lawyer for Ms Nyanzi argued that the Mental Treatment Act was a “relic of colonial rule intended to thwart Ugandans quest for independence,” he said such a law had been overtaken by the 1995 Constitution and could therefore not apply in a democratic country.
The state lawyer argued that for as long as the law had not been repealed, amended or declared unconstitutional it was still good law, a position magistrate Eremye Mawanda seemed to agree with as he remanded Dr Nyanzi for two weeks the prosecution had requested to allow an investigation into her mental status.
However, the reason he gave for his order was to allow the defence time to respond adequately to the prosecution.