When a citizenry is pushed to the edge by the Museveni junta
By Moses Ssejjoba
An unprecedented drama ensued on Friday, concurrently inside the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate’s Court and in Luzira Upper Prisons. It was during the sentencing of the academic-cum-activist Dr Stella Nyanzi who was convicted for cyber harassment of President Museveni by the same court.
The sentencing stems from a poem she posted on her Facebook page last year, through which she used her academic area of study – sexuality – to rant about Museveni’s misrule of Uganda. For this, she was handed an 18-month sentence of which she will serve nine months, having already served the other half while on remand.
It was however not the sentence handed to her that caught much of the public eye, but rather the symbolism of the events that played out in court. First, she was acquitted of the charge of offensive communication after the perceived complainant, President Museveni, did not turn up during the substantive proceedings.
The Chief Magistrate, Gladys Kamasanyu, therefore decided to conveniently convict her on a more blanket charge of cyber harassment. This set off a hullabaloo both inside the courtroom and in Luzira Prison where Nyanzi was caged and made to follow her judgment through a video link facility.
In her final submissions following her sentencing, the activist decided to protest the injustice meted out on her by publicly undressing before a camera that relayed the images in real time to the fully packed courtroom. The images, owing to the well-publicized nature the trial has taken, were relayed live on television stations that covered live the sentencing.
It did not stop there. Hell broke loose inside the fully packed courtroom where members of the public inside the court’s public gallery started throwing empty bottles at the chief magistrate, outraged at the continued abuse of the judiciary by Museveni to do his bidding.
This is something that is unprecedented in our country and it only shows the boiling anger among the ordinary citizens over Museveni’s continued dictatorship. Much as a few people – mostly Museveni regime luminaries – complained over what they called hooliganism within a temple of justice, analyst looked at it in the prism of defiance by Uganda over Museveni’s growing dictatorship.
For far too long, analysts say, Museveni has (mis)used the judiciary to abet his continued stay in power, through intimidating dissenters who dare complain of his authoritarianism. The symbolic significance of the Nyanzi court debacle does not stop there. The academic actually refused to beg for leniency during her sentencing, and instead chose defiance.
She told the court she would only use the platform to address Ugandans over the excesses of the Museveni junta. So despite the machinations by the regime to silence her in this regard by confining her to a prison cage from where she followed her sentencing, she still managed to get her message across.
A medical anthropologist, Nyanzi chose to use the area of her study to agitate for change in our country, which she said, and in total agreement with almost all Ugandans, has been raped for 33 years by Museveni and his cronies. This has in turn emboldened Ugandans to the proportions we saw on display in the courtroom of the Buganda Road Grade One Magistrate’s Court.
It will only get worse as long as Museveni continues to cling to power.
Unfortunately, it will only (at least in the short run) cast Uganda in a bad light, of those who have little knowledge about the ills that afflict the country. But, sadly, Ugandans are not left with many options; going by the suffering they endure every day at the hands of this regime.