Stella Nyanzi, a Ugandan academic activist who is currently serving a jail term for a poem she wrote about President Yoweri Museveni’s mother’s vagina wins the 2020 Oxfam Novib/PEN International award for freedom of expression.
The award is usually given to writers who “continue to work for freedom of expression in the face of persecution.”
Nyazi is also referred to as a critic of President Yoweri Museveni. She was sentenced to 15 months in prison term after she published a poem that said she wished “the acidic pus flooding Esiteri’s (the president’s mother) vaginal canal had to 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.”
Speaking concerning her merit of the award, Carles Torner, the director of PEN International, said that Nyazi’s doggedness in tackling the issues of her country was what earned her the award.
“For her, writing is a permanent form of resistance in front of a regime that is trying to suppress her,” said Torner at the award ceremony.
The writer who is in jail was represented with an empty chair at the ceremony which held in Hague, Netherlands. She, however, sent an acceptance speech from jail which read:
“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?”
This is the second time Nyazi has been jailed. In 2017, she served a month’s sentence for referring to Museveni as a “pair of buttocks.”
“Though her words might be colourful and shocking to some, this is not enough to justify the imposition of penalties. Public officials should tolerate a higher degree of criticism than ordinary citizens.” Jennifer Clement, PEN International president said.
Previous winners of the award include Cameroonian activist and journalist Enoh Meyomesse, as well as Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega.