Rights groups ask Museveni to block computer misuse law

Left to Right: Mr Allan Sempala Kigozi of Unwanted Witness, Mr Robert Sempala of HRNJ-Uganda, and Mr Michael Aboneka(right), a human rights lawyer, at a press conference. PHOTO | HRNJ-Uganda

The Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) Uganda and other civil society organisations have appealed to President Museveni not to sign the Computer Misuse Amendment Bill into law.

The organisations say the Bill, recently passed by Parliament, is a bad law meant to protect the corrupt while penalising those demanding for accountability from their leaders.

Mr Robert Ssempala, the executive director of HRNJ-Uganda, said the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill, 2022, is aimed at gagging media freedom and freedom of expression.  

“On August 25, we appeared before the Information and Communication Technology Committee of Parliament to present our views about the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill 2022. Unfortunately, on September 8, Parliament passed the said Bill without due consideration to our submissions,” Mr Ssempala said on Saturday.

During the public hearing, the ICT sub-committee of Parliament received a total of 17 submissions through public hearings, who all expressed concern over repetitive legislation and lack of basis for the Bill. It is still unclear how the committee ended up with a report in support of the Bill. The Bill has a number of provisions, including criminalising unauthorised access to information, sending unsolicited information, publishing photos of children without parental consent and publishing false and malicious information.

Mr Ssempala said the amendment is a direct slap in the face of Article 29(1) (a) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, which protects the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom of the press and media.

“The criminalisation of free sharing of information shall certainly stifle this and shall frustrate the exercise of this type of journalism, as much as it will the professional one too. The ultimate effect of this is to contravene the Constitution,” he said.

According to him, people who feel that their information has been wrongly shared or misrepresented, have an option of instituting civil action against the alleged perpetrators.  

For example, he said, Clause 3 of the Bill that seeks to create the offence of unauthorised sharing of information about children is covered under the Children’s (Amendment) Act, 2016, which already puts in place the right of children to privacy, and makes it an offence for anyone.

Mr Michael Aboneka, a lawyer and human rights advocate, said while any good law must seek to cure mischief, the amendment has instead created more mischief than it seeks to cure. He said the President, instead of sending the Bill back, should reject it entirely.

Mr Allan Kigozi Ssempala, the legal officer of Unwanted Witness, said the country already has adequate laws, but their implementation is weak. He said for the case of the data protection law, the government created an entity under the National Information and Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U), which is understaffed. He wonders how such enforcement can be carried out when the institution lacks manpower.