On February 24, 2014, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law two controversial pieces of legislation. One of those laws, the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which punishes same-sex conduct with life in prison, unsurprisingly received most of the attention. But Museveni activated another conservative law as well: the Anti-Pornography Act, the government's attempt to ban porn or "any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement."
It's that vague anti-indecency law that is getting some added attention this week with the story of pop singer Jemimah Kansiime, who performs as Panadol Wa'basajja. As Agence France-Presse points out, Kansiime faces up to ten years in prison for appearing in a racy music video for her heavily auto-tuned single "Ensolo Yange." In it, the 21-year-old pop star can be seen dancing in soaped-up thong underwear.
Kansiime released the video in September and was arrested two months later after Uganda's ethics czar Simon Lokodo apparently caught wind of it. Her then-manager, Didi Muchwa Mugisha, was also detained but was released after pleading guilty and agreeing to pay a small fine. The singer, however, pleaded not guilty and was detained for five weeks before posting bail.
The singer is the first person to be tried under the Anti-Pornography Act. She's due back in court next month.
The act (read it) defines pornography as "any representation through publication, exhibition, cinematography, indecent show, information technology or by whatever means, of a person engaged in real or simulated explicit sexual activities or any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement." It goes on to state that "a person shall not produce, traffic in, publish, broadcast, procure, import, export, sell or abet any form" of the state's interpretation of porn. The penalty, if convicted, is a fine or up to ten years in prison or both.
"When I was making that video I never intended it for children, I intended it for adults. I did not sell or distribute the song," Kansiime told AFP. "My rights have been trampled upon; my freedom of expression has been trampled upon."
Kansiime's lawyer, Isaac Semakadde, said that there needs to be clearer lines drawn in the law to separate artistic expression, whether sexual in nature or not, and acts accepted as criminal by the rest of the world. "That right to erotic entertainment, there has to be a space for it in an open and free society," he said. "To ban all forms of pornography, all forms of nudity, is outrageous."
According to a report by The Telegraph, Kansiime has received little support within Uganda and indeed a smear campaign appears to be underway. Red Pepper, an openly homophobic tabloid based in Uganda's capital of Kampala, called her a "porn star" who "sounds like those cows on heat" in a May 20 article on the attention the singer is receiving globally.
Looking ahead, Kansiime already plans on toning things down on her next video. "I have to do something that people like, I have not benefited from that video."