Uganda arrests Stella Nyanzi at protest over coronavirus response

KONFRONTASI-Ugandan police have arrested a prominent activist for allegedly inciting violence as she led a group of protesters against what they called "slow distribution" of food and other relief goods to vulnerable people affected by coronavirus-related restrictions, according to local media.

Stella Nyanzi, a vocal critic of President Yoweri Museveni, together with a small group of activists, was arrested on Monday as she was marching towards the office of Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda in the capital, Kampala.

In a petition on Monday, Nyanzi and others had urged the government to revise anti-coronavirus measures that have benefitted the rich and "created an apartheid state and occasioned avoidable suffering upon many vulnerable Ugandans, especially women and low-income earners."

Through the petition, the activists also called for food distribution for those in need and free face masks for everyone, as well as for the release of political prisoners and those held for violating measures meant to contain COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

Police spokesman Patrick Onyango said Nyanzi had been arrested "for inciting violence".

"She is exploiting the COVID-19 situation to advance her political motives," he told Reuters News Agency.

Uganda has implemented one of Africa's strictest lockdowns, including a dusk-to-dawn curfew. It has also closed businesses and schools, banned public gatherings and the use of private and public vehicles other than those of essential workers such as medical staff.

To date, the country has recorded 248 confirmed coronavirus cases and no related deaths according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University,

Nyanzi, an academic and poet, 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.

In August last year, 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 quashed 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 transport to hospitals.[mr/aje]