MPs moot tougher law on cyberbullying

Members of Parliament during a plenary session on February 10. PHOTO/DAVID LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • Deputy Speaker Anita Among says a section of the public often uses both social and mainstream media to abuse, bully and publicise false narratives against others.

Members of Parliament (MPs) are mooting a law to clamp down on cyberbullying, something they say has become rampant across different media platforms.  

While presiding over plenary on Thursday, Deputy Speaker Anita Among said a section of the public often uses both social and mainstream media to abuse, bully, and publicise false narratives against others.
Ms Among said in the case of MPs and ministers, cyberbullying is affecting their work, adding that the only way to address it is through a law that penalises culprits.

“I read a ruling yesterday which was made by Justice [Musa] Ssekana saying they would not tolerate anybody writing about and bullying judges on social media; I think that ruling should apply to legislators,” she said.

She added: “They should leave us to do our work. This business of witch-hunting people, writing all the nonsense that you can’t even substantiate, we need to make a law in regard to that… we need to bring these people to book.”

Ms Among’s submission followed concerns raised by the Minister for Disaster Preparedness, Mr Hillary Onek, regarding reports by a media house alleging that he had been flown out of the country critically ill. 
Mr Onek, who said he was in perfect health and had taken leave of office, asked the media house to retract the story.

On February 8, Ms Among reprimanded social media users who were circulating false messages about the health of Speaker Jacob Oulanyah. 

The Speaker was flown to the US where he is receiving treatment, and this elicited debate across social media.
Kampala Central MP Mohamad Nsereko took on Ms Among’s suggestion, and said he will soon seek leave of Parliament to introduce a Private Members Bill on cyberbullying.

“The movement of information has been hurtful to many people, has been used as a weapon to spread malicious propaganda and hate speech in certain countries…,” he said.

Mr Nsereko said the proposed law will prescribe hefty fines against those found guilty of the offence of cyberbullying.

“What we should do is to come up with a strong law but that law should be on penalties. You insult someone, you pay, [for instance] Shs50m,” he said

He added: “You can see people cropping [altering] people’s images without their permission, which is hurtful to not only the individuals but also their families.”

Mr Nsereko said the proposed law will also seek to protect social media users from being lured into terrorism and commission of other crimes.

Government Chief Whip Thomas Tayebwa, who supported the proposed law, decried the insensitivity on social and mainstream media, saying it injures the image of public officials.

“The bullying going on is too much and it has resulted in some people also over reacting because they have feelings. Some of the people want to bully you online but they do not want you to react. They ‘squeeze’ you online, then when you react, it is trouble. As government, we will support [the legislation],”he said.

The country already has in place the Cyber and Computer Misuse Act, 2011 under which some regime critics, and activists such as Stella Nyanzi, have been arrested and charged.

Recently, satirical writer Kakwenza Rukirabasheija was charged for allegedly insulting President Museveni and his son, Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, who is also the commander of UPDF Land Forces.  

The law, among others, criminalises cyber harassment, offensive communication and cyber stalking.