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Rights activists criticise Uganda for academic's conviction

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By Elias Biryabarema

KAMPALA (Reuters) – Rights activists on Friday accused the Ugandan government of using electronic communications laws to stifle dissent, after a prominent academic was convicted for cyber-harassment over a Facebook post critical of President Yoweri Museveni.

Stella Nyanzi, a university lecturer and researcher who once called Museveni “a pair of buttocks”, has drawn the government’s wrath for her attacks on him. Laced with profanity and sexually explicit language, it is posted on her Facebook page and often shared widely by her followers.

A court on Thursday found her guilty of cyber harassment, an offence under Uganda’s computer-misuse law. The offence carries a sentence of three years or a fine of 1.4 million shillings ($379.40). A sentence is expected to be handed down later on Friday.

The offence stemmed from a Facebook post last year in which she insulted Museveni with a profanity.

“This verdict is outrageous and flies in the face of Uganda’s obligations to uphold the right to freedom of expression … and demonstrates the depths of the government’s intolerance of criticism,” said Joan Nyanyuki, director for East Africa at human rights pressure group Amnesty International.

Amnesty said in the statement the verdict should be quashed and Nyanzi, who has been in jail since November last year, freed immediately.

“The Ugandan authorities must scrap the Computer Misuse Act… which has been used systematically to harass, intimidate and stifle government critics,” Nyanyuki said.

Critics say Museveni, in power since 1986, is increasingly becoming intolerant of dissent as resistance to his rule grows.

(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema)

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