Media body asks Museveni not to sign the Computer Misuse Bill

The Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) has written to President Yoweri Museveni asking him not to sign into law the recently passed Computer Misuse Amendment Bill.

Robert Ssempala and Aboneka Michael present petition to the president

The bill, sponsored by the Kampala Central Member of Parliament Muhammad Nsereko, was recently passed by Parliament making it a crime to write, send or share what the law regards as hateful, unsolicited, misleading, or malicious information online. The law also criminalises the use of photos on social media without the express permission of those who are photographed.

However, in a letter, HRNJ Executive Director Robert Ssempala highlighted clauses in the Bill, such as clause 2(a) which seeks to make sending unauthorised access to information an offence, as being harmful to free expression.

The clause, Ssempala writes, fails to define which information about someone can be shared without one risking legal consequences and, he adds, it also infringes upon the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression and of the media.

The limitations of this protection have been laid down by the Supreme Court of Uganda in the case of Charles Onyango Obbo V Attorney General and clearly this Bill seeks to go way and beyond that,” the letter says.

The letter also notes that with the rise of citizen journalism, where people film and forward rights abuses, such transgressions are captured and have led to the successful prosecution of perpetrators. If the Bill is signed into law as it is, HRNJ argues, it will thwart the said citizen journalism.

The letter argues that clauses such as the one that deals with the privacy of children also disregards the fact that some of the hideous acts committed against children are committed by their parents.

Therefore, if one must seek the consent of their parents to film, let alone circulate such a video, this sought consent will perpetuate the abuse of children’s rights.

Clause 6 of the Bill, which prohibits sharing misleading or malicious information, also raised issues with the media body.

The letter says the bill falls to define what constitutes malicious or misleading information, hence making it prone to abuse.

“It is a trite principle of legislative drafting that a good lawyer should be simple, to understand in order to enable easy interpretation, implementation and enforcement.”

“The Supreme Court has already ruled on the parameters of regulating what amounts to false information. The court even declared unconstitutional the penal offence of spreading false news. In as far as the Bill is seeking to reintroduce the same offence, using other words, this tantamount to overturning a court judgement by legislation which is unconstitutional,” the letter reads.

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) was established in 2005 by a group of journalists who had developed a sense of activism, and it was formally registered as an independent, non-profit and non-partisan media organization in 2006. The identity of HRNJ-Uganda lies with its diverse membership of over 729 journalists from both print and electronic media as well as freelance investigative journalists and students.

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