Court dismisses petition against Anti-Terrorism law

Fire fighters battle an inferno that engulfed cars after the bomb explosion on Parliament Avenue in Kampala City on November 16, 2021. PHOTO/ file

What you need to know:

  • The court decision resulted from a petition in which Unwanted Witness Limited, a human rights advocacy organisation, was challenging the Attorney General (AG) in regard to the Anti-Terrorism Act as amended.

The Constitutional Court has dismissed a petition in which a civil society body was challenging the legality of the Anti-Terrorism Law.

In a unanimous decision yesterday, the five-member panel ruled that the petition in which Unwanted Witness was challenging sections of the Anti-Terrorism Act lacked merit.

They said the challenged sections 7, 9, 10, 11 ad 19 give rights and freedoms, which are not absolute.

The judges are Cheborion Barishaki, Stephen Musota, Irene Mulyagonja, Muzamiru Kibeedi and Monica Mugenyi.

In the lead judgement, Justice Musota ruled that the offence of terrorism is properly defined, its elements clearly outlined and its penalty prescribed in Section 7 (1) (a) and (b) of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2002 as amended.

“It is my considered view that Section 9(1) and (2) of the Anti-Terrorism Act are not an infringement on the freedom of expression but criminalise the publication of news or material that promotes terrorism in Uganda,” the judge held.

On the argument that the challenged law empowers the minister to declare an organisation a terrorist group without judicial safeguards, the judge said they did not agree with it.

He said the section is clear that the amendment can be done but with approval of Cabinet and by statutory legislation, and in no instance does it infringe on freedom of association and expression.

Justice Musota advised that the legal process of judicial review is also permanently available to any person dissatisfied with the decision of the minister to challenge the statutory instrument before the High Court.

The judge also dismissed the contention against Section 11 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, saying the section seeks to prevent the spread of terrorist groups within the country and hence it is not unconstitutional in as far as protection of citizens is concerned.

Background

The court decision resulted from a petition in which Unwanted Witness Limited, a human rights advocacy organisation, was challenging the Attorney General (AG) in regard to the Anti-Terrorism Act as amended.

The Unwanted Witness had sought for declarations that Section 7(2) of the Anti-Terrorism Act is too broad and thus fails to define the offence of terrorism, contrary to the requirement in Article 28(12) of the Constitution that every offence must be defined and ascertained.

They also challenged Sections 9, 10, 11 and 19 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, reasoning that they limit the freedoms association, and expression.

Through their lawyers, the organisation argued that Section 19 of the Anti-Terrorism Act, which empowers the minister to authorise any security personnel to secretly intercept communication and search the premises of any individual infringes on the right to privacy, which is guaranteed in Article 27 of the Constitution.

Background

The Unwanted Witness had sought for declarations that Section 7(2) of the Anti-Terrorism Act is too broad and thus fails to define the offence of terrorism, contrary to the requirement in Article 28(12) of the Constitution that every offence must be defined and ascertained.

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