Makerere University researcher Stella Nyanzi's release from prison was marked by commotion and firing of live ammunition by prison officials as prison authorities insisted on driving back to Luzira so she could be formally signed out.
Today, the High court quashed the August 2019 judgment by Buganda Road court magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu in which she jailed Nyanzi for 18 months after finding her guilty of cyber harassment and offensive communication against President Yoweri Museveni.
Nyanzi has been in jail since November 2018, when the government accused her of cyber harassment and offensive communication against Museveni and his late mother Esteri Kokundeka.
In a poem posted on Facebook in September 2018, Stella described Museveni’s birth as a painful ugly day, nauseatingly disgusting, horrifically cancerous and traumatically wasted day among others. Nyanzi was consequently tried in Buganda Road Magistrates’ court and sentenced to 18 months in prison. She appealed the sentence, and on Thursday, the judge upheld the appeal.
"The judgments we find from the lower court are set aside for they were illegal, as the court does not have jurisdiction. B, conviction against the appellant is hereby quashed. C, the appellant is ordered to be released immediately," said High court judge Peter Adonyo.
The magistrate ruled that Nyanzi’s trial wasn’t fair, on the grounds that the judge was biased against the defendant and did not ensure the attendance and testifying of witnesses, among other flaws.
He said the prosecution failed to prove that Nyanzi’s actions added up to cyber harassment, and did not prove that she was using a computer or was in Uganda at the time of the alleged offense.
Outside of court Thursday, Nyanzi was glad to be out of prison but wondered why she was in jail for this long. After her release, Nyanzi told the press that she committed no crime for saying Museveni's mother ought to have suffered a stillbirth while giving birth to Museveni.
“Why was in prison for more than one year? I want to understand why the lower courts are abusing the rights and freedoms that are constitutionally provided for, for all Ugandans," she said. "The right to a fair hearing. 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?”
A few minutes after she spoke, there was commotion and Nyanzi fainted before she was rushed out of the court premises by her supporters.
Prison officials fired into the air to disperse the growing crowd, before putting Nyanzi into a van and taking her back to jail. Her lawyer accompanying Nyanzi in the van, and she is still expected to be freed within the next 24 hours, after being processed for release.