Computer Misuse law is unconstitutional

A woman using a desktop to browse internet at her work place recently. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • In Uganda, President Museveni signed into law four Bills that were recently passed by the Parliament.

The future of the press in authoritarian, kleptocratic, tyrannic, and dictatorial regimes is uncertain. 
In Uganda, President Museveni signed into law four Bills that were recently passed by the Parliament.
Of the four Bills that have been turned into laws, the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act 2022 has not only prickled and throttled Ugandans but also the fourth estate, commonly known as the media, which many people have identified as a target for this puzzling amendment.

This law has been very controversial of late, and its amendment has just left it contentious and rabble-rousing, with an iron hand on cybercrimes, malicious and uninvited information, false news, and violations of any individual’s freedom and rights through the media.
Those in favour of the amendment have closed their eyes to two issues; (a) whether press freedom, individual rights to freedom of expression, and freedom of speech will still make sense to them, and (b) they must have thought Uganda is no longer a member state of the United Nations and ought to respect international legislation on human rights and freedoms such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), African Charter on Human and Political Rights (ACHPR-Banjul charter), etcetera. Perhaps the country is no longer a signatory to these laws, according to them.

In my opinion, this amendment will suppress press freedom, individual freedom of expression, and freedom of speech.
A law that prohibits sharing false, malicious, and unsolicited information — information that can degrade, ridicule, and demean — highly contradicts Article 29 of the 1995 Uganda Constitution and other legal judgments based on the rule of precedent. Thus, it’s not substantially sound and demonstrably justifiable to the right-thinking members of society, thus, it’s very unconstitutional.
Scholars such as Erica B. (2005) will remind us that, when courts were more judicially active and willing to declare legislation and government action unconstitutional, several legal provisions were overturned, including Section 50 of the Penal Code Act in the case of Obbo and Another v. Attorney General. 

It is 20 years down the road since section 50 of the Penal Code Act, which prohibited and caramelized the publication of false news, was challenged in court by the managing editor of the Monitor and a journalist. Section 50 was found to be vague, inconsistent with Article 29 of the Constitution, and not sufficient to provide the necessary certainty to impose an acceptable limitation on freedom of expression.
After 20 years, we are still amending laws on false news, which is not defined by the supreme law, and not paying attention to precedents. I don’t know where the future of the press lies. I am very sure, the Computer Misuse (amendment) Act 2022 is unconstitutional.
The author, Nelson Bahati Media studies student at Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway
[email protected].