Ugandan activist Stella Nyanzi is a free woman after the High Court quashed her conviction and sentencing on Thursday.
While ordering for Nyanzi’s immediate release, Justice Henry Peter Adonyo cited lack of jurisdiction and fair hearing as a reason for overturning conviction by Buganda Road Court Grade one Magistrate Gladys Kamasanyu Musenze last year.
The former Makerere University lecturer had been slapped with 18 months in prison on August 2 for referring to President Yoweri Museveni as a “pair of buttocks” in a Facebook post.
The judge further said the defence team was not given enough time to argue their case, hence denied the right to a fair trial.
Justice Adonyo ruled that the prosecution failed to produce evidence showing the location- of the device- where the offence was committed; either Uganda or out of the country.
“Prosecution did not as well ascertain the kind of device which was used to send as the digital prints were not presented before Buganda road,” the Daily Monito quotes Justice Adonyo.
Nyanzi, who was in court, was overwhelmed by emotions. The Daily Monitor reports that she collapsed as she was being helped to go sign her release papers.
In her appeal filed at the High Court in August 2019, Nyanzi argued that the court did not have the jurisdiction and that she allowed the charge that was incurably defective, unacceptably vague and barred by law.
“That the learned trial magistrate erred in law and fact when she failed to accord to the appellant the necessary facilities to compel the attendance of witnesses, and thereby infringed on the appellant’s right to a fair hearing,” the petition read.
She faulted the trial magistrate for failing to evaluate evidence on record, hence, wrongly convicting her over cybercrime offence.
Nyanzi attended her sentencing via a video link and was acquitted of one of the charges of offensive communication. The charge was based on a poem she wrote which was considered vulgar by Ugandan authorities.
The court heard that the magistrate contravened Article 28(5) of the 1995 Constitution, Section 123 of the Magistrates Court Act, and the Judicature (Visual-Audio Link) Rules (2016) when she conducted proceedings via Visual-Audio Link.
Nyanzi has been detained in jail since November 2018. Several humanitarian groups including Amnesty International supported her bid saying her sentencing amounted to killing the freedom of expression in Uganda.
Online activists have also been calling for her release using the hashtag #freestellanyanzi.