, KAMPALA, Uganda, Feb 20 – When revealing photographs of a Ugandan student were leaked online in a case of revenge porn, it left her terrified she herself might face criminal charges under tough new laws.
With the photographs then printed in tabloid newspapers following repeated threats, the devastated and humiliated victim turned to lawyer Gerald Abila, whose innovative and tech-savvy legal aid project, Barefoot Law, has helped hundreds of thousands with advice.
“She was hiding from shame – and at the same time hiding from legal prosecution,” Abila told AFP, explaining how a 2013 anti-pornography law had created controversy and confusion, with those featured in naked photographs fearing arrest.
“But we said if your photo has been taken and leaked, then you can easily take the person who has leaked it to the police – and actually have them arrested,” he added.
Barefoot Law was born two years ago when Abila, now 32, began offering legal advice via social media and Skype on his smartphone in the east African nation.
Today it is an award-winning non-profit social enterprise with nine volunteer staff reaching thousands of people a month, spreading beyond Uganda to countries including even war-torn Somalia, where thousands of Ugandan soldiers are peacekeepers.
Barefoot Law – which also offers legal aid through phone, text message and email – provides a “dial-a-lawyer” service through its website, barefootlaw.org, as well with a smartphone app.
For many Ugandans, it is the only source of legal advice they can access.
“Don’t end up playing the victim and being intimidated by what is going on,” Abila said.