Ugandan Scholar Arrested for Advocacy

BY AARON  BARLOW

Stella Nyanzi, a medical anthropologist who earned her PhD at the University of London and who is currently a research fellow at Makerere University’s Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR) in Kampala, Uganda (though her exact status at MISR seems a little uncertain), has been arrested in Kampala for “various offenses related to cyber harassment and offensive communication,” according to The Independent, a Ugandan news source. The Washington Post picked up an AP story that claims she was arrested for “violating a law against misusing computers.”

Nyanzi, whose specialty is youth sexualities and reproductive health, has been critical of Janet Museveni, Education Minister and wife of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for breaking a promise made by her husband during an election campaign last year to supply sanitary napkins to poor schoolgirls.

Nyanzi is known for dramatic protest. She once disrobed in front of the MISR Director’s office and has become something of a star on Facebook for her outspoken comments. She was arrested after an address the Rotary Fellowship in Kampala on Friday evening, April 7, 2017 and is expected to be arraigned on Monday.

As Hank Reichman pointed out on this blog On April 5th, attacks on academic freedom outside of the United States are growing and are not unrelated to events in this country. He writes:

Threats to shut down… [educational] institutions reflect a growing intolerance for independent thought not unrelated to events here in the U.S. The New York Times reported earlier this month that the election of Donald Trump had emboldened opponents of [George] Soros [who funded one of the institutions under attack] in Eastern Europe.  “I wouldn’t want to take this too far, but I’ve noticed a significant darkening of the tone since November 2016,” said Ignatieff. “Before that relations were sunnier; after that they got darker. I think the government has had this in mind for a long time and thinks it’s going to get a green light from certain people.”

The threat, clearly, extends beyond institutions of higher learning themselves and to faculty and researchers, especially those who, like Dr. Nyanzi, involve themselves in political debate. Outrageous in any event, this is particular disturbing when the scholar is going public out of concerns directly related to their scholarship and research, as in her case.

We who are members of the AAUP, or who support the organization’s ideals, need to make sure that our voices are as loud in support of Nyanzi, the institutions Reichman discusses and any other of the victims of the growing instance of abuse of the principals of academic freedom abroad as they are when academic freedom is attacked here at home.


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