Uganda's court quashes part of law used to prosecute government critics

Uganda's court quashes part of law used to prosecute government critics

'Impugned section is unjustifiable as it curtails freedom of speech,' rules Constitutional Court

By Hamza Kyeyune

KAMPALA, Uganda (AA) – Uganda’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday quashed a section of a communications law that has been used to prosecute government critics, journalists, and writers.

The law has been used over the years for the arrest and sentencing of government critics, including academic and social critic Stella Nyanzi, who was detained for insulting the president on Facebook and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Others, such as author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija who is currently in exile, have been arrested and prosecuted over offensive communication against the president and his son via Twitter.

Punishments for offenders can range from steep cash penalties to jail sentences of several years.

A panel of five justices of the Constitutional Court ruled that the law is unconstitutional.

In a ruling on a petition filed by a rights activist seeking the quashing of that section of the law, Constitutional Court Judge Kenneth Kakuru, who wrote the lead judgment on behalf of a panel of five judges, said that the section of the law "is unjustifiable as it curtails the freedom of speech in a free and democratic society.

“I find that the impugned section is unjustifiable as it curtails the freedom of speech in a free and democratic society. Secondly, Section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act does not specify what conduct constitutes offensive communication. To that extent, it does not afford sufficient guidance for legal debate. Thirdly, it is vague, overly broad, and ambiguous. Therefore, I find that the impugned section is inconsistent with and/or in contravention of Article 29 of the Constitution,” Justice Kakuru said in the lead judgment.

He declared it "null and void" and banned its enforcement.

Robert Ssempala, the executive director of the Human Rights Network for Journalists, a non-profit based in the capital Kampala, told Anadolu Agency that the legislation was aimed at gagging media freedom and protecting the corrupt while penalizing demands for accountability. There was no immediate response from the government.

Uganda’s government has long been accused of stifling online freedoms. Uganda's president banned Facebook in January 2021 after the social media giant deleted a slew of accounts belonging to government officials accused of seeking to manipulate public debate ahead of general elections.


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