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Uganda: Scrap draconian law aimed at suppressing freedom of expression online

A bill signed into law by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on 13 October to severely restrict freedom of expression online will be weaponized against critics, including political opponents, and must be immediately reversed, Amnesty International said today.

This piece of legislation threatens the right to freedom of expression online, including the right to receive and impart information

Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa

“This piece of legislation threatens the right to freedom of expression online, including the right to receive and impart information, on the pretext of outlawing unsolicited, false, malicious, hateful, and unwarranted information. It is designed to deliberately target critics of government and it will be used to silence dissent and prevent people from speaking out,” said Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

“While it has useful provisions regarding protection of the right to privacy, including child protection and responsible coverage of children, it introduces punitive penalties for anyone accused of so-called hate speech.”

President Museveni signed into law the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act, which bars individuals convicted under the new legislation from holding public office for 10 years, reinforcing state control over online freedom of expression, including by political opposition groups. Leaders or public officers will also be dismissed or forced to vacate office upon conviction.

Those found to have breached the draconian law face fines of up to 15 million Ugandan shillings (about US$3,940) and imprisonment of up to seven years.

The law defines “hate speech” broadly, stipulating, in part that, “A person shall not write, send or share any information through a computer, which is likely to – (a) ridicule, degrade or demean another person, group of persons, a tribe, an ethnicity, a religion or gender; (b) create divisions among persons, a tribe, an ethnicity, a religion or gender; or (c) promote hostility against a person, group of persons, a tribe, an ethnicity, a religion or gender.”

Authorities in Uganda must repeal this piece of legislation and ensure that any future law guarantees checks and balances

Muleya Mwananyanda

The law further makes vague provisions on sharing of “unsolicited information.”

It also states that, “A person shall not send to or share with another person unsolicited information through a computer” and “A person shall not send, share or transmit any misleading or malicious information about or relating to any person through a computer.”

“Authorities in Uganda must repeal this piece of legislation and ensure that any future law guarantees checks and balances, including freedom of expression both offline and online,” said Muleya Mwananyanda.

“Ugandans must be able to exercise their right to freedom of expression without fear of being targeted by the criminal justice system.”

Background

On 9 September 2022, Uganda’s parliament passed the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill 2022 to amend six sections of the already repressive Computer Misuse Act, 2011.

On 10 March 2022, state authorities raided Digital TV offices in Kampala and arbitrarily arrested nine staff members and held them incommunicado for a week before unconditionally releasing seven of them. The remaining two – novelist, Norman Tumuhimbise and journalist, Farida Bikobere – were charged with offensive communication and cyberstalking President Museveni, contrary to sections 25 and 26 of the Computer Misuse Act 2011, respectively. They were also accused of using their online platform with the intention “to disturb the peace and quiet of the President of the Republic of Uganda”.

In the last three years, Amnesty International has reported that at least two activists linked with opposition parties, including Stella Nyanzi and Kakwenza Rukirabashaija who are both in exile, faced cybercrime related charges in court.