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CPJ: Ugandan constitutional court strikes down criminalization of ‘offensive communication’

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Nairobi, January 10, 2023 — In response to news reports that Uganda’s constitutional court on Tuesday, January 10, struck down Section 25 of the country’s Computer Misuse Act, which criminalized “offensive communication,” the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement welcoming the decision: 

“The Ugandan constitutional court’s decision to nullify provisions of a law criminalizing ‘offensive communication’ is a great relief, as authorities have repeatedly used this legal tool as a cudgel against critical journalism and commentary,” said Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative. “Authorities must reform other problematic sections of the Computer Misuse Act that could be used to criminalize the work of the press and ensure that all of the country’s laws are compatible with the standards of freedom of speech in a democratic society.”

The court found Section 25, which imposed prison terms of up to a year for anyone using electronic communication to disturb the peace, to be “vague, overly broad and ambiguous,” according to a copy of the judgment reviewed by CPJ. The court ordered that enforcement of Section 25 be stopped, according to the judgment.   

CPJ has documented authorities’ use of Section 25 to justify the detention of journalists.  

Other sections of the Computer Misuse Act are subject to separate litigation, including amendments introduced in 2022 that criminalized the dissemination of information without consent, “misuse of social media,” sending “malicious information,” and “creat(ing) divisions,” according to a copy of the amendments and news reports

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