On 10 January Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck down a section of a law that rights groups say has been repeatedly abused by authorities to silence government critics, including journalists and activists. In vague and broad terms, section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act criminalised ‘Offensive Communication,’ which it defined as the use of electronic communication to ‘disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication.’ In a unanimous judgment, the Court found the provisions to be unconstitutional, ruling that they unjustifiably curtailed the right to freedom of expression. Rights groups have welcomed the ruling but caution that free speech in Uganda continues to be threatened by other provisions within the Act, including amendments made in October 2022.
On 13 October Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that rights and media organizations have said further restricts freedom of expression online and is likely to be weaponized against journalists and government critics. In vaguely worded terms, the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act 2022 criminalizes “hate speech” and the sharing of “unsolicited information”. Those convicted under the law face prison sentences of up to seven years, fines of up to 15 million Ugandan shillings and (significantly for political opponents) are barred from holding public office for up to 10 years. Non-governmental organizations, Amnesty International and the Committee to Protect Journalists, noted that prior to this amendment, pre-existing provisions within the Computer Misuse Act 2011 have been used by Museveni’s government to prosecute its critics and journalists.