Lawyers for a Ugandan academic, detained after she called the nation’s president “a pair of buttocks” on Facebook, said she fears authorities are trying to have her declared insane.
University lecturer Stella Nyanzi was detained after repeatedly criticising President Yoweri Museveni and his wife, who also serves as education minister, in sexually explicit terms.
Her case is seen as a key test of freedom of expression in the East African nation. The country is considered a reliable Western ally in a region often roiled by violence, but critics say hostility to dissent is growing in Uganda.
Activists like Nyanzi, who was charged with cybercrimes, criticised Museveni’s alleged corruption and nepotism and rights violations by security agencies. The 72-year-old Museveni has been in power for more than three decades.
Nyanzi says instead of being offended by her language, Ugandans should be offended by the president’s failure to keep his promises, including a pledge to provide free sanitary pads for poor girls so they don’t have to skip school.
Nyanzi’s lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo, said she told him prison authorities tried to trick her into taking a psychiatric test shortly after she was arrested.
He said that two men presenting themselves as ordinary doctors were from a government mental hospital. Opiyo said he could identify them by name.
They (the government) do not want to go to trial,” he said. “They just want to de-legitimise Stella, characterise her as a fool, a mad person … and confine her to a mental hospital.”
During her court hearing, prosecutors asked for an evaluation of her mental health, which she refused.
Frank Baine, a spokesman for Uganda Prisons department, denied the two men were mental health specialists. The medical exam was “a routine medical exam every new inmate undergoes to avoid risks of spreading infection,” he said.
International rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called for Nyanzi’s release.