Computer Misuse Act: Constitutional Court Decriminalizes Offensive Communications.

By Brenda Namugenyi

After seven years, the constitutional court has delivered a land mark ruling, nullifying section 25 of the computer misuse act 2011 because it curtails freedom of speech.

The section makes it criminal for any person to use electronic means of communication to disturb or attempt to disturb the peace or right of privacy of any person. 

Scores of political activists and leaders have been charged under the cap of this law since 2012 when president Museveni assented to it. Many have been charged with annoying the person of the president. 

In 2016, Lawyer and activist Andrew Karamaji and Robert Shaka petitioned the constitutional court challenging the charge of offensive communication under section 25 of the act. In their submission, the petitioners stated that the impugned section is an insidious form of censorship which restricts free flow of opinions and ideas essential to sustain the collective life of the citizenry in the digital age. 

On Tuesday, five justices of the constitutional court delivered a land mark ruling nullifying the section.

Court has noted that the united human right committee in its general comment 34, states that any limitation on freedom of expression must be absolutely necessary.  “states are only permitted to prohibit it through criminal section only under child pornography, direct public incitement to genocide, advocacy of national, racial, religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence and incitement to terrorism.” Reads part of the ruling.

Led by justice Richard Buteera, the coram has stayed implementation of the section forthwith. Other justices on the panel Kenneth Kakuru, Geoffrey Kiryabwire, Elizabeth Musoke and Monica Mugenyi were unanimous in this decision.   

“I find that the impugned section is unjustifiable as it curtails the freedom of speech in a free and democratic society.Secondly, section 25 of the computer misuse act No.2 of 2011 does not specify what conduct constitutes offensive communication. To that extent it does not afford sufficient guidance for legal debate. Thirdly, it is vague, overly broad and ambiguous. Therefore, I find that the impugned section is inconsistent with section 29(1) of the constitution.” Court has ruled. 

Lawyers and human rights activists Eron Kiiza, Isaac Ssemakadde have expressed gratitude to the judiciary for delivering a ruling that sets free many Ugandans whose opinions had been suffocated by the unconstitutional section. 

In 2022, parliament amended the computer misuse act, furthermore, criminalizing freedom of expression.

The law was challenged before the constitutional court by a group of lawyers, activists and human rights organizations.

The constitutional court ruling, nullifying section 25 is considered a major breakthrough. 


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