Ugandan police detain academic Stella Nyanzi in Kampala, Uganda, May 18 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ABUBAKER LUBOWA
Ugandan police detain academic Stella Nyanzi in Kampala, Uganda, May 18 2020. Picture: REUTERS/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

Kampala — Ugandan police on Monday arrested prominent academic Stella Nyanzi, a vocal critic of President Yoweri Museveni, as she protested against lockdown measures to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.

The East African nation, with 284 confirmed cases and no deaths, has implemented one of Africa's strictest lockdowns, closing businesses and schools, banning public gatherings and the use of private and public vehicles other than those of essential workers such as medical staff.

Author, university lecturer and rights activist Nyanzi  has in recent years earned a huge following on social media for her bold attacks on Museveni over his crackdown on political dissent and decades-long rule.

“We detained her for inciting violence. She is exploiting the Covid-19 situation to advance her political motives,” police spokesperson Patrick Onyango said.

Reuters was unable to reach either Nyanzi or her lawyer.

Nyanzi was arrested in Kampala as she and a small group of activists attempted to present to the prime minister a petition demanding the lifting of the lockdown and the distribution of free face masks to the population. The petition also called for the release of thousands jailed for alleged violations of lockdown measures including a dusk-to-dawn curfew.

The group also protested against what they called the slow distribution of relief food.

In August 2019, a magistrate's court convicted her on charges of cyber harassment and sentenced her to 18 months in jail. She subsequently appealed her sentence and a judge in February threw out the ruling.

Some doctors and rights activists have criticised the strict lockdown measures, which they say have caused deaths of expectant mothers and patients with chronic diseases who struggled to find transportation to hospitals.

Reuters