By Mariam Abele
KAMPALA, Uganda (AA) – A Ugandan high court judge on Thursday quashed the conviction of Makerere University researcher and activist Stella Nyanzi.
Justice Peter Henry Adonyo’s ruling followed an appeal filed by Nyanzi contesting her sentencing by a magistrate’s court in August 2019.
“The judgements we find from the lower court are set aside because they were illegal, as the court does not have jurisdiction, Adonyo said.
“B, conviction against the appellant is hereby quashed. C, the appellant is ordered to be released immediately,” he added amid applause from the court.
Nyanzi was jailed for cyber harassment and offensive communication against President Yoweri Museveni and his late mother.
In a poem posted on Facebook in September 2018, Nyanzi described Museveni’s birthday as morbidly grave, horrifically cancerous, painfully ugly and bitterly sad, wishing he had died at childbirth.
She was arrested and sent to prison in November 2018 and was convicted in August 2019.
But Justice Adonyo told the court Thursday the magistrate was not fair, since she did not ensure the compulsory attendance and testimonies of witnesses produced by the defense, claiming there was no time.
The judge also stated that the prosecutor’s key witness, who was an officer of the Criminal Investigations Department, neglected to establish whether the computer or data used was in Uganda at materially the time.
Addressing journalists outside court, Nyanzi asked why she had been jailed for so long.
“Why was I in prison for more than a year? I want to know what is wrong with courts which abuse the rights of accused people,” she said.
“I want to understand why the lower courts are abusing the rights and freedoms that are constitutionally provided for, for all Ugandans. The right to a fair hearing is a constitutional right.
“Why was I in prison? Because I wrote a poem? Because I expressed my deep disinterest and disgust of the NRM regime? Is that why I was in prison?”
Just after she addressed the media, a commotion ensued, during which she fainted and was rushed out of the court premises by her supporters amid live bullets being fired by prison officials who dispersed the growing crowd.
Nyanzi was put into a van and taken back to prison accompanied by her lawyer. She is expected to be freed in the next 24 hours after her paperwork is processed.