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Ugandan Pop Star Faces Prison for Racy Music Video

The 21-year-old Ugandan singer Jemimah Kansiime faces up to 10 years in prison for a music video that authorities say violates the country's anti-pornography law.
Photo by Isaac Kasamani/AFP/Getty Images

Ugandan pop star Jemimah Kansiime, who appeared in a music video covered in soap while grinding in a thong, has become the first person in Uganda to be prosecuted for violating the country's strict anti-pornography act.

The 21-year-old singer who goes by the name "Panadol wa Basajja," which translates to "medicine for men," was reportedly inspired by Rihanna and Nicki Minaj when she released the video to her single "Ensolo Yange." The video landed the singer in jail for five weeks in November after a conservative official came across the music video. She was later released on bail.


Kansiime will appear in court later this month to defend her freedom and challenge Uganda's loose interpretation of pornography, especially amongst conservatives. The singer can face up to 10 years in jail for the risqué video.

"My rights have been trampled upon, my freedom of expression has been trampled upon," Kansiime said in an interview with Agence France-Presse (AFP).

The popular music video released in September 2014, with over 284,000 views on YouTube, has faced intense opposition by some conservative Ugandan officials in relation to the anti-pornography act.

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

The singer and her then manager, Didi Muchwa Mugisha, were both arrested in November. Kansiime's manager pleaded guilty and was fined 200,000 Ugandan shillings ($66). Kansiime however, pleaded not guilty, and was jailed for five weeks before raising money for bail. Although she has been released on bail, Kansiime will still be subjected to criminal proceedings.

The law has received criticism from groups such Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Under the bill, which was signed in February 2014, pornography is defined as "any representation of the sexual parts of a person for primarily sexual excitement." Earlier drafts of the bill stated that the "display… of sexual parts of a person such as breasts, thighs, buttocks or genitalia" constituted pornography.


Although that version of the bill was not included in the one that parliament approved, members of the public took matters into their own hands and began to harass women for wearing miniskirts and other articles of clothing that were deemed revealing. There was a series of attacks last February in which women wearing miniskirts were forcefully undressed.

Related: Uganda's 'Miniskirt Ban' Is No Joke

Uganda's ethics minister, former priest Simon Lokodo, reportedly found the video that later led to Kansiime's arrest. In addition to targeting pornography, Lokodo has called for the arrests of men who procure prostitutes. He has also been critical of women's dress and was quoted saying, "We do not like you to behave in a way that draws the attention of other people. Be decent and let your cloth show you as a decent person… if you are dressed in something that irritates the mind and excites other people especially of the opposite sex, you are dressed in wrong attire and please hurry up and change."

Maria Burnett, Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch, told VICE News that the law "has a big and extremely nonspecific provision that leaves the condition of pornography open to a great deal of interpretation. We've been very concerned about the government's rhetoric to control women, women's self expression, and women's freedom of expression."

Kansiime's lawyer, Isaac Semakadde, has pointed out that the case offers Ugandan performers the opportunity to "express themselves" and that the boundaries between entertainment and pornography need to be more strictly defined.


"That right to erotic entertainment, there has to be a space for it in an open and free society," Semakadde said. "To ban all forms of pornography, all forms of nudity, is outrageous."

The pop star admitted that she may have to conform to more conservative standards in order for her music to thrive in Uganda. "I have to do something that people like, I have not benefited from that video," she said.

While Kansiime will appear in court later this month, Semakadde said he will call for her case to be pushed back, after the court reviews another case in which activists have urged for a more precise definition of pornography.

In an interview with the BBC, Semakadde said that the law was primarily created to serve the interests of religious groups in Uganda. "It's one of those not-well-thought-out laws that have been made to please a particular constituency, particularly the religious people and the conservative groups … the impact has been a selective application of this law," he said.

Related: Uganda's Anti-Gay Witch Hunt Has Officially Begun