On Tuesday, the Constitutional Court of Uganda struck down a key provision of a controversial internet law that human rights groups had claimed was aimed at suppressing freedom of expression.
The Computer Misuse Act of 2011 contained a section making it illegal for anyone to “use electronic communication to disturb or attempt to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication.”
This controversial provision, which was seen as overly vague, was found to be in violation of the country’s constitution by Justice Kenneth Kakuru, who led the court’s five-judge panel. He ruled that the section was null and void, as it unduly restricted freedom of speech in a democratic society.
This ruling was a response to legal challenge filed in 2016 by human rights groups and lawyers, who have long criticised the law as a way for the government to quell opposition and restrict freedom of expression.
Amnesty International has also spoken out against the law, calling it “draconian.” The law carried heavy penalties for violators, including fines of up to 15 million Ugandan shillings (about $3,900) and prison terms of up to seven years.
Additionally, those convicted under the law were barred from holding public office for 10 years, which Amnesty and other rights groups believed was a way for the government to reinforce its control over online freedom of expression, particularly for political opponents of President Yoweri Museveni.
Uganda has seen a series of crackdowns on those opposed to Museveni’s rule, particularly around the 2021 election.
Journalists were attacked, lawyers were jailed, vote monitors were prosecuted, the internet was shut down, and opposition leaders were violently silenced.
The Tuesday ruling was seen as a significant step forward for human rights and freedom of expression in the country, and it was hailed by rights campaigners as a victory for not just the petitioners, but human rights defenders in general. The government has yet to announce whether it will appeal the ruling.
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