Parliament must defend freedoms
Posted Thursday, January 31 2013 at 02:00
In the event our colleagues may have misreported, we disagree with the summary nature of their punishment.
Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga’s ironical actions in the suspending of two journalists will go down as a stain on her record in the annals of legislative history even as she hides behind the curtain of parliamentary privilege.
The January 28 letter confirming the regrettable suspension of The Observer’s David Tash Lumu and Sulaiman Kakaire was not unexpected. Indications were that someone was bristling that their public image as the priestess of democratic rectitude was being questioned and, therefore, wanted retribution. That in itself was an exhibition of dodgy self-righteousness.
In the event our colleagues may have misreported, we disagree with the summary nature of their punishment. Every defender of civil liberties and freedoms will find it repugnant. It is indefensible that the pinnacle of the Legislature where the unconstrained exchange of ideas must flourish, and who should be the most open-minded amongst us, can condone such flagrant levels of intolerance.
Secondly, it is doubtful whether the parliamentary guideline on suspension is compatible with the Constitution.
We invite Parliament to remember Judge Joseph Mulenga’s (RIP) robust defence of freedom of expression in his brilliant ruling which struck down the odious offence of publication of false news. Mr Mulenga JSC concluded in Constitutional Appeal No. 2, 2002, 11 February 2004 of the Supreme Court of Uganda, that the offence of publishing false news would penalise expression even in cases where that expression caused no danger to the public interest. In those circumstances, he sensibly said, it could not be compatible with the right to freedom of expression.
Quote Judge Mulenga: “[T]he right to freedom of expression extends to holding, receiving and imparting all forms of opinions, ideas and information. It is not confined to categories, such as correct opinions, sound ideas or truthful information ... [A] person’s expression or statement is not precluded from the constitutional protection simply because it is thought by another or others to be false, erroneous, controversial or unpleasant ... Indeed, the protection is most relevant and required where a person’s views are opposed or objected to by society or any part thereof, as “false” or “wrong”.
The constitutionally protected rights to free speech and free media must jealously be guarded. Without them, the very essence of democracy crumbles.