Explainer post: What transpired when Stella Nyanzi’s case went to High Court

On Tuesday, Dr Stella Nyanzi who has been in state custody since April 7th was produced in High Court before Justice Elizabeth Kabanda.

Brief background: Dr Nyanzi was charged in Buganda Road Court on April 10th and remanded to Luzira Prison for cyber harassment and offensive communication. The charge sheet said that Dr Nyanzi had, in a Facebook post, called the President “a pair of buttocks” and repeatedly used her social media to post “messages offensive in nature” to disturb the peace and quiet of the president of Uganda “with no purpose of legitimate communication.”

So if the case was at Buganda Road Court, how did it end up in High Court?

In arguing the case, the state prosecution (the team that represented the State of Uganda, who brought Nyanzi to court) used the old colonial Mental Health Act 1938 and asked the Dr Nyanzi have a mental health examination. They said they wanted to ascertain her mental health status.

Nyanzi’s lawyers applied to the High Court to revise the decision of the lower court (magistrate’s court)- in this case Buganda Road Court. The High Court was to revise or basically to re-visit, to review what had happened in the lower court. They had two specific requests (or “prayers”, as they are called in court) regarding Nyanzi’s mental health check as this was not a criminal case and bail application.

The defense team had earlier asked for bail at Buganda Road Court but Chief magistrate James Eryeme Mawanda refused to hear the application for bail, and claimed to have no mandate to grant her bail.

The teams were each given five minutes to state their side, and a ruling made Tuesday late afternoon.

The decision of the High Court

On the two requests made, the High Court decided that it was okay for the magistrate’s court to check for Dr Nyanzi’s insanity.  Justice Elizabeth Kabanda said that the lower court had power to request for the mental health examination.

For the bail, the High Court ruled that the magistrate’s court should hear Nyanzi’s bail application. Justice Kabanda refused to hear the bail application because she insisted that the magistrates’ court at Buganda Road should have heard the application in the first place. She acknowledged that there was a delay in justice and the magistrate should have been allowed Nyanzi to seek bail after plea.

Nyanzi was then taken back to Luzira Prison because her next court date is May 10th before the Buganda Road Court magistrate.

With the back and forth, she is to spend more than a month in state custody.

 

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