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Ugandans outraged by new computer ‘misuse’ amendment

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Oct 14, 2022 - 02:02 AM

KAMPALA, Uganda, (AA) – Uganda’s president on Thursday approved legislation amending the country’s “computer misuse” law, which critics say is meant to muffle online dissent.

The amendment, approved by President Yoweri Museveni, seeks to prohibit sending or sharing false, malicious, and unsolicited information, for which it set a tough penalty of seven years in prison and/or a fine of $4,000.

It further bans writing, sending, or sharing through a computer any information that is likely to ridicule, degrade, or demean another individual.

Many have criticized the measure for undermining digital rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression and access to information.

“This law is in bad in faith and will potentially be used to shield powerful individuals from criticism,” Swaib Kagwa, a media lecturer at the Islamic University in Uganda told Anadolu Agency.

Arguing that the measure limits the sharing and dissemination — and thus access to — information, Kagwa suggested that it violates the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Robert Ssempala, the executive director of the Human Rights Network for Journalists, a non-profit based in the capital Kampala, echoed Kagwa’s criticism by telling Anadolu Agency that the legislation was aimed at gagging media freedom and protecting the corrupt while penalizing demands for accountability.

“This is really a big blow to freedom of expression and particularly to journalists doing investigative work because this law imposes untenable barriers to speech. We shall certainly challenge it in courts of law. So, all hope is not yet lost,” he said.

The computer misuse law has already been used over the years for the arrest and sentencing of government critics, including academic and social critic Stella Nyanzi, who was detained for insulting the president on Facebook and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Others, such as author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija who is currently in exile, have been arrested and prosecuted over offensive communication against the president and his son via Twitter.

Lawmaker Muhammad Nsereko has defended the law by saying that it would regulate social media and other media platforms, especially on the matter of fake news propagation.

“Social media is good, but there are also elements that abuse it. For instance, someone goes on his computer or phone and announces that I’m dead, when I’m still alive doing my duties,” Minister of Information and National Guidance Chris Baryomunsi told reporters.

Uganda has long been accused of stifling online freedoms. The president of the East African nation blocked Meta, then named Facebook, from operating in his country, accusing it of “arrogance” after the social media company removed fake accounts and pages linked to his re-election campaign in 2021.

Prior to its indefinite suspension more than a year ago, the company was the most used social media platform in the country.

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