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Africa

Uganda performer faces 10-year jail sentence under new anti-porn law

media Kampala women protest ban on mini-skirts AFP/Emmanuel NEGA

Ugandan pop singer Jemimah Kansiime, 21, is facing 10 years in jail under Uganda’s Anti-Pornography Law for a racy music video on YouTube. She has already spent five weeks in jail on charges of producing and promoting pornography. In Nkulinze (I am waiting for you), the song for which she was arrested, she repeatedly adjusts her blue pushup bra - a clip Ethics Minister and former Catholic priest Simon Lokodo considers "vulgar" and "obscene".

"I was aware that there are some sections of society that are conservative," the singer told AFP. "I was just experimenting to see if I put on a short dress, will the audience like it?"

The answer is: they do. In an ever more popular song, Ensolo Yange, Kansiime soaped her thong-clad behind, attracting more than 400,000 viewers on YouTube.

Kansiime, who performs as Panadol Wa'basajja ("Medicine for Men" in Luganda), has pleaded not guilty.

"Jemimah is arguing that it is within her rights as a human being to express herself," one of her lawyers, Marvin Faasi, told RFI. "She also argues that she never made the video for which she got arrested for young people, never sold that video to young people. She believes she has no case to answer."

Her attorneys have asked a magistrate’s court in Kampala to suspend criminal proceedings until a legal challenge to the Anti-Pornography Act is ruled on by the country's constitutional court. The lower court is set to decide on the stay of proceedings on 9 July.

Critics of the anti-porn bill say it is evidence that Uganda, the only predominantly Roman Catholic country in Africa, is under growing conservative influence driven by Christian churches, including hundreds of evangelical churches that have sprung up in recent years.

Kansiime was arrested in November, pleaded not guilty and spent five weeks in jail - the time it took her to raise bail. Her then manager, Didi Muchwa Mugisha, who was arrested at the same time, pleaded guilty and was fined 200,000 Ugandan shillings (60 euros).

Some activists agree that the performer’s rights have been trampled upon and that the anti-porn bill harkens back to the days of President for Life Idi Amin.

"It’s taking away women’s rights and women’s liberties," said Ida Horner, a Ugandan-born community development consultant who grew up under Idi Amin. "It’s taking us back back to the days of Idi Amin when girls or women were not allowed to wear miniskirts, to wear trousers or to smoke. The country’s just regressing and it’s not the right way to go."

Kansiime was arrested after Minister Lokodo was shocked at the video. Lokodo has recently boasted that he and his "intelligence team" are keeping a close eye on such singers, according to AFP.

"That's why Panadol was arrested," he said, describing her videos as "very obscene and vulgar".

Activists are challenging the constitutionality of the anti-porn bill on the grounds that it is too broad and too vague.

The law defines porn as: "any representation, through publication, exhibition, cinematography, indecent show, information technology or by whatever means, of a person engaged in real or stimulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement".

The act is being challenged by a consortium of rights groups, include the Federation of Uganda Women Lawyers, the Forum for Women in Democracy and individuals like lawyer Lillian Drabo who was arrested on court premises in Kampala last year for allegedly being dressed inappropriately.

"Our sense is that the law is overly broad in terms of its focus and how it describes [the] crime of pornography," said one of the consortium’s lawyers, Nicholas Opiyo.

The act, sometimes referred to as the "miniskirt law", led mobs to assault and undress women who were wearing short dresses in Kampala last year. No arrests were made in connection with these acts of  mob justice.

"We know that the spirit and intent of this law is not to ban men who are wearing sleaveless shirts or men who are wearing shorts when running on the roadside, " explained Opiyo. "It targets women. "
 

Follow Michel Arseneault on Twitter @miko75011

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