Human rights activists under their umbrella body National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders in Uganda (NCHRD-U) have urged government to respect Dr Stella Nyanzi’s right to be presumed of sound mind, describing attempts by authorities to examine her mental state as a violation of her rights.
The organisations also demand government to investigate the circumstances under which the NTV journalist, Gertrude Uwitware was kidnapped, blindfolded and threatened by unknown people.
The organizations want a speedy and fair trial for Dr Nyanzi who is charged with two counts of offensive communication and cyber harassment under the Computer Misuse Act 2.
The organizations including Advocat Sans Frontiers, Chapter Four Uganda, Defenders Protection Initiative, Defend Defenders, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Human Rights Network Uganda, Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda, Human Rights Centre Uganda, Uganda Law Society and Unwanted Witness Uganda argue that Dr Nyanzi also has the right to apply for bail since the crime she is charged with is bailable.
“We express deep concern towards the rising critical cases of violations of fundamental rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression as enshrined under Article 29 of the 1995 Ugandan Constitution and various ratified international legal instruments,” the joint statement by the organisations reads in part.
The statement adds that, “as the wheels of justice start to roll, it is important that the court process is respected and that Dr. Nyanzi’s rights are respected.”
How Nyanzi was arrested
Dr Nyanzi was under the cover of darkness waylaid and picked by unknown people last Friday as she left a Kampala hotel where she had just delivered a keynote speech at a rotary event.
The police later confirmed having her in their detention facilities after several hours of holding her incommunicado. Police further indicated that she was being held in connection with her Facebook posts that are deemed offensive first family.
Dr Nyanzi, a social researcher at Makerere University and a single mother of three, has since been arraigned in court on charges of cyber harassment and offensive communication under the Computer Misuse Act2 to which she pleaded not guilty.
The charges result from her social media postings about of President Museveni and his wife Janet Museveni, who is also the Minister of Education.
Rights defenders targeted
The organisations further condemn the kidnap and torture of NTV journalist Gertrude Uwitware who was last Saturday kidnapped by unknown assailants who blindfolded and drove her around Kampala while intimidating and threatening her.
This happened despite Ms Uwitware reporting threats against her life after posting a blog supporting Dr Nyanzi on her social media postings.
While the organizations commend police for taking action to ensure Ms Uwiware’s safe return, they demand thorough investigations to bring her abductors to justice.
“It is concerning that HRDs seeking to report and document human rights violations, including academicians, journalists, and pro-democracy activists have their freedom of movement and access obstructed; freedoms of expression and association violated, and are further at risk of arrest and detention because of their work,” the statement further states.