Former Makerere University Research fellow and
scholar, Dr. Stella Nyanzi collapsed on Thursday while receiving the Oxfam
Novib/PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression for 2020.
This was during the ceremony organised by the
Ugandan PEN, a subsidiary of the PEN International, a global association of
writers at the Uganda Museum Library. Dr Nyanzi explained that in prison she was undergoing a traumatic experience and
wanted to recover.
“I have a weak body but my mind is strong. I was boxed while
in prison,” said Dr. Nyanzi as she was gathered by her lawyer, Isaac Ssemakadde
and feminist activist, Annet Namata alias Nalongo Nana. Dr. Danson
Sylvester Kahyana, the President Ugandan PEN, said Dr. Nyanzi’s continued lapses
were “the cost of freedom and part of the damage she acquired.”
//Cue in: "The conviction of Stella
Cue out: ...on Social Media."//
Dr. Nyanzi has widely published on themes of Gender
and sexualities, cultural development, health, and law. The award is given to
writers and journalists annually in recognition of their significant
contribution to freedom of expression despite the danger to their own lives.
Although Dr. Nyanzi was awarded in absentia on January 18,
2020 at a ceremony held as part of the opening night of Writers Unlimited
Festival at The Hague, in Netherlands, an empty chair was used to represent
When Dr. Kahyana, who is also a Senior
Literature Lecturer at Makerere read to Dr. Stella Nyanzi, the speech by Carles
Torner, the Director of PEN International that was sent in on Wednesday
February 26, she broke down, reminiscing her life in the cells.
"I don’t have to agree with Stella.
Personally there are many things that I don’t agree with but I have to support
her to say those things because it is my duty as a Ugandan to uphold the
Constitution. My supporting Stella Nyanzi is not just because I am a member of
PEN, it’s also because I am a Ugandan who must uphold the Constitution and it
says freedom of speech is something we must have," Dr. Kahyana says.
The teary Nyanzi kept on seeking solace from her
daughter Barack. She said; “When Danson was in Luzira to break the news to me
about the award, I remember I was seated on the floor and he was telling me I
was given an award on an empty chair.” “In Luzira, women prisoners get beaten for
sitting on chairs, so when I received a letter that I was awarded on an empty
chair, I felt sad,” she added.
According to Nyanzi, she was supposed to write
her acceptance speech but every time she wrote, the chits got stolen and others
confiscated by the prison authorities. “I wrote against difficult odds. The
surveillance there was hyper. The snitches were numerous. The punishment for
exercising my freedom to write was severe,” says Nyanzi. She however says she sneaked it out inside a
piece of bread during one of the days she came to Court.
Oxfam Novib and PEN International for nominating and awarding me this
Honourable award. Who am I to receive The Freedom to Write Award of 2020? I am
a convicted prison who writes graffiti on prison walls, writes poems to be
sneaked out of prison gates, and writes an award speech denied permission by
the prison leadership. I am deeply grateful for the award,” reads Nyanzi’s
Award acceptance speech. She says her last fourteen months of
incarceration are a confirmation of the degeneration of freedom of expression
//Cue in: "These days I ...
Cue out: ...for simply writing a poem?"//
Isaac Ssemakadde, said representing Dr. Stella
Nyanzi was his, “greatest honor of being a lawyer.” He said they had opened a
website “Be Bold like Nyanzi” in celebration of her stand
//Cue in: “There are many lessons...
Cue out: ...and the Law”//
Nyanzi’s life in Prison
Nyanzi has despite our efforts to secure her
interview on her life in prison declined on ground that she is still unstable
as she is still on treatment and recovering from prison trauma. Nevertheless,
Nyanzi shared some of the memories including when she was put in solitary
She says she was denied visitors in prison for
extended periods and some of her regular visitors were banned from returning to
the maximum-security prison, where she was confined for nearly 15 months. Nyanzi
was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in jail for cyber-harassment by the
Buganda Road Grade One Magistrate, Gladys Kamasanyu. This was after she wrote a birthday poem about, President
Yoweri Museveni’s mother criticising his near 35-year rule.
The poem was
published on her Facebook page, in 2017. While in prison, Nyanzi says, “I was been
beaten, punched, kicked and bruised by prison staff. My remission was reduced
to ten days. I was even locked up in solitary confinement while handcuffed and
nude for five days. And yet I kept on writing most nights I spent in this
She says she used the handcuffs binding her
hands together to scratch huge indelible writings into the three walls of the
scary cell of solitary confinement in the “condemned” section of Luzira Women
These graffiti read, "YOU CAN HANDCUFF MY
BODY BUT YOU WILL NEVER HANDCUFF MY SPIRIT – STELLA NYANZI" "LIBERTY
WITHOUT FREEDOM IS STILL CAPTIVITY – STELLA NYANZI" and "SOY LIBRE –