Dr. Stella Nyanzi protests trial citing defective charge sheet

Dr. Stella Nyanzi protests trial citing defective charge sheet
City lawyer Ssemakadde argues that the charge sheet against his client Dr. Stella Nyanzi, doesn't disclose precisely the details and particulars in both counts she is charged with. Courtesy Photo/The Economist

Dr. Stella Nyanzi has protested her trial, saying her charge sheet is defective and can’t sustain the trial.

Dr. Nyanzi is charged with offensive communication and cyber harassment stemming from her Facebook post on September 16th, 2018 in which she used derogatory words against Esteri Kokundeka, the late mother of President, Yoweri Museveni.

On Wednesday, the matter came up for hearing before Buganda Road Court Grade One Magistrate, Gladys Kamasanyu. However, Dr. Nyanzi’s lawyer, Isaac Ssemakadde spent about three hours arguing that the charge sheet was badly written in such a manner that it contravenes the rules of duplicity and the Computer Misuse Act.

Under duplicity rules, a charge sheet may contain more than one count but each count must precisely state one offense, so that the accused person gets to understand the crime they are facing.

However, Ssemakadde argued that the charge sheet against his client doesn’t disclose precisely the details and particulars in both counts she is charged with. He said that the three words in the particulars of the offense including “lewd”, “obscene” and “indecent” can each sustain separate offenses under the computer misuse Act.

He argued that the framers of the law were fully aware that despite being synonymous, the words carry different meanings. Ssemakadde says the failure by the DPP to organise the charge sheets and separate the words makes the charge sheet defective.

He also argued that the language used in the second count, which states that “proposals or suggestions” also offends the rule of duplicity since it’s grammatically wrong, according to its usage in the matter.

The Magistrate, Gladys Kamasanyu interjected asking Ssemakadde whether court was in an English class. In his response, Ssemakadde said prosecution is dealing with literally matters, since the accused is a literature expert and he had to consult her.

Ssemakadde further argued that “the words such as disturbing the peace, privacy and the quiet of a person as stated in the charge sheet, would all be enough to sustain separate counts.

He said the charge sheet was bad in law and oppressive since the essential ingredients of the offenses presumably set out in each count are not only insufficient but are ideally missing.

Ssemakadde said it’s immaterial to misquote the law in a statement of the offense since it’s not clear whether; the particulars were extracted from a poem, speech, video clip, graph or something else.

He also said words such as “inter alia'” as used in the charge sheet were misplaced and prejudicial since they don’t clarify the matter at hand. Ssemakadde also argued that the under the Computer misuse act, the failure by prosecution to set out the exact time Dr. Nyanzi reportedly committed the offense is illegal.

He therefore asked court to acquit his client, saying court has no powers to order the amendment of a defective charge sheet.

The State Prosecutor, Janat Kitimbo, said she needs more time to file a response to some of the legal issues raised by Ssemakadde. The magistrate adjourned the matter to January 10, 2019 and further remanded to prison.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International has asked government to drop the charges against Dr. Nyanzi arguing that Uganda is acting unlawful.

According to Amnesty International, the charges brought against the Makerere University research fellow contravene Uganda’s International Human Rights obligations in as far as respect, protection and promotion of rights of expression and speech are concerned.

In its statement issued on Wednesday, Amnesty International accuses Uganda of occasionally using the Computer misuse Act, 2011 to systematically harass, intimidate and stifle government online critics, which is unlawful.

This is not the first time Nyanzi is accused of cyber harassment and offensive communication. In 2016, she was charged for the same counts and released on bail with caution never to repeat the same offense.