Museveni ‘pen’ sparks anger over computer misuse law

President Museveni. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Activists say the legislation is intended to gag the public, and or target certain voices deemed unpalatable to the State.

Rights groups and a section of Ugandans have expressed dismay at the President’s assent to the controversial Computer Misuse Act, and vowed to challenge the legislation in courts of law.
Since its introduction, activists have labelled the Bill as one intended to gag the public, and or target certain voices deemed unpalatable. They are worried that if left as is, it will be a big blow to free speech, a right ingrained in the country’s Constitution.

President Museveni assented to the new law, along with three other pieces of legislation - The Physical Planners Registration Act, The Kampala Capital City Authority Amendment Act, and The Mining and Minerals Act- yesterday, according to a statement by the State House Communication team.
The Computer Misuse Act introduces punitive measures against Internet users who send malicious and unsolicited information as well as share information about children without the consent of their parents or guardians.
Users who share information about children without authorisation of parents or guardians face five years in jail and or a fine of Shs15m.

Voice or video recording an individual without authorisation attracts a 10-year sentence or Shs15m fine.
Section 23(A) creates the offence of “hate speech,” which includes the writing, sending or sharing of any information through a computer, which is likely to ridicule, degrade or demean another person, group of persons, tribe, ethnicity, religion, or gender. If convicted, one faces seven years imprisonment or a fine of Shs10m.
The Act also creates the offence of misuse of social media against a person who uses the platforms to publish, distribute or share information, prohibited under the laws of Uganda or using disguised or false identity.

A brain child of Kampala Central MP Muhammad Nsereko, the Computer Misuse Bill was first tabled in July, and passed last month.
The law is an amendment to the principal Act of 2011 to introduce hefty fines, and tougher punishment against cybercrime that Mr Nsereko has argued necessitated tighter policing of the Internet and its users.
Mr Museveni assented to the law, barely a week after rights groups petitioned him to block it, citing it as unconstitutional, and redundant.

Speaker of Parliament Anita Among yesterday welcomed the President’s approval of the new law and applauded members of the 11th parliament for fast tracking it. 
In an interview last evening, Mr Robert Ssempala, the executive director of the Human Rights Network for Journalists- Uganda, expressed concern that the law will be used to stifle expression and dissent. 
“It is a very big blow to freedom of expression and journalists rights. It imposes criminal sanctions against many Ugandans for expressing themselves. Many charges will be looming around the necks of Ugandans and will make it difficult for anyone to express dissent or hold their leaders to account,” Mr Ssempala said.

He added: “We are going to challenge the law in courts of law. We have talked to many of our colleagues and we are unanimous about challenging it.  Sections 24 and 25 of the Principal Act that introduced offensive communication and cyber harassment had already been challenged, so we will add the new controversial additions, but we would be glad if the entire law is struck down.”
Mr Allan Kigozi Ssempala, the legal officer at Unwanted Witness, said the process of drafting the suit has already commenced. 
“It faces the same challenges the principle Act faced; vagueness and ambiguity, which makes it hard to be proved in court. Courts will have difficulty awarding plaintiffs. How do you define offensive communication? Where does it begin or end?” he wondered.
Technical issues, including questionable quorum when the law was passed by Parliament, will also come into play.  
 Mr Kigozi says the law is designed to serve a certain class of people who wield power, as illustrated by previous cases where it has been implemented. He cited the case of academic-turned activist Dr Stella Nyanzi and writer Kakwenza Rukirabashaija who were charged with offensive communication.
Mr Aboneka says in case one is charged under the law, they can ask for a constitutional reference, which essentially asks for one to be charged under a different law. This, his says, will reflect the redundancy of the new law.