Prominent Ugandan feminist activist, writer and academic Stella Nyanzi who is currently serving an 18 months jail-term for accusing President Museveni and his government of using laws about electronic communications to stifle political dissent is this year’s winner of the Oxfam Novib/PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression. Each year the award is given to writers and journalists around the world in recognition of their significant contribution to freedom of expression despite the danger to their own lives.
A fierce, public critic of Museveni’s government and a practitioner of “radical rudeness”, a traditional Ugandan strategy for unsettling the powerful through the tactical use of public insult. Nyanzi’s poem which she posted on Facebook (dated September 2018) picks on the head of state’s mother, where she wished “the acidic pus flooding Esiteri’s (the president’s mother) vaginal canal had burn up your unborn fetus. Burn you up as badly as you have corroded all morality and professionalism out of our public institutions in Uganda.”
She is an ardent writer on social media where she comments and debates about contemporary social-political occurrences, and she writes poetry, mainly on social media. She is an outspoken activist on women’s rights and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex peoples.PEN International president, Ms Jennifer Clement said in her official statement.
At the award ceremony which held at The Hague, Netherlands on January 16, an empty chair was used to signal the writer’s absence and president of PEN Uganda Danson Kahyana, accepted the award on her behalf. He said the prize wasn’t just good news to the Makerere University research fellowship but also to all freedom of expression defenders in Uganda and elsewhere. In her acceptance speech which she managed to send from prison, Nyanzi is quoted saying: “Unlawful laws are used in unjust courts to punish citizens whose only crime is exercising their constitutional freedom to write boldly about the dictatorship. My custodial sentence in a maximum security prison highlights how fearful this dictator and his cronies are of writers,” she added. “Isn’t the pen, indeed, mightier than the sword?”
Previous winners of the Oxfam Novib/PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression include Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich, Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour, Eritrean poet and writer Amanuel Asrat, Honduran activist Dina Meza and Cameroonian journalist Enoh Meyomesse.