A group of activists, journalists and lawyers have rushed to the Constitutional Court to challenge the controversial Computer Misuse Act that was recently assented to by President Museveni.
The 13 petitioners include Alternative Digitalk Limited, Norman Tumuhimbise, Arnold Mukose Anthony, Farida Bikobere, Jeremiah Mukiibi, Tumusiime Kato, Lilian Luwedde, Rogers Tulyahabwe, Nabukeera Teddy Teangel, Nixon Segawa, Angella Namirembe, Esomu Simon Peter and Anthony Odur who dragged the Attorney General to court on behalf of the Ugandan government.
The petitioners say that the law passed by parliament and later assented to by the president violates the Ugandan constitution and the right to freedom of expression, practicing one’s profession and carrying on any lawful occupation, trade or business and access to information.
“The phrase “unsolicited information” as used in the impugned provisions is disproportionate, indiscriminate and overly broad in application,” the petitioners say.
“Section 3 of the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act, 2022 is in inconsistent and in contravention of Articles 2, 29(1)(a) &(b), 40(2) and 41 of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda respectively as it broadly prohibits and criminalises the unauthorised sending, sharing or transmission of any information about a child, which offends the rights to freedom of expression, practising one’s profession and carrying on any lawful occupation, trade or business, and access to information.”
According to the petitioners, section four of the controversial law contravenes the Ugandan constitution by criminalizing freedom of expression by prohibiting writing or sharing information through a computer which is likely to ridicule a person or creates divisions.
“Sections 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the of the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act, 2022 are in contravention of and inconsistent with Articles 2 and 28(12) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda as they create offenses which are vague, ambiguous and inconsistent with and contravenes the right to a fair hearing on the principle of legality which requires that every offence must be precisely defined.”
Threat to journalism
According to Norman Tumuhimbise, one of the petitioners, through his digital platform, he has been able to employ over 10 journalists and this has enabled them to earn a living and also contribute to the public discussions on issues that affect the lives of the citizenry but notes that this has been crippled by the new law.
“The said journalists stand a risk of losing their jobs since the impugned law makes it impracticable for them to practice their trade as digital journalists. It unreasonably throttles editorial independence of an editor responsible for social media publications and undermines the freedom of speech of digital journalists by imposing limitations that are not demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society,” Tumuhimbise says in his affidavit.
“The impugned law that prohibits the sharing of an unauthorized information through a computer device irrespective whether we are using internet or not cripples our working system as we cannot collect, process, share, edit, broadcast and disseminate news and any other information.”
Tumuhimbise says that whereas social media is the bloodline of Alternative Digitalk and other similarly situated media platforms which are purely dependent on sharing and marketing, the law threatens to have them pushed out of business.
“This operational model risks to collapse due to the unwarranted limitations imposed by the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act 2022. The impugned law is not tailored to cure any mischief, instead it is imprecise and overly broad in defining all the offences it creates and hence making every social media a potential criminal.”
The group now wants the Constitutional Court to issue an order permanently staying the implementation of Sections 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 of the Computer Misuse Amendment Act, 2022.
Meanwhile, the court has directed government through the Attorney General to file a response to the petition in seven days .