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Uganda scraps sedition laws - good news for journalists?

Uganda scraps sedition laws - good news for journalists?
Stephen Wandera

A court in Uganda ruled in late August that the country’s sedition laws are unconstitutional. But there remain other legal battles for press freedom, which media activists intend to pursue in court.

This week's guests are:

Joshua Kyalimpa, chairperson of the Uganda Journalists Association;
James Nangwala, lawyer and lead counsel in the case against the government to scrap the sedition laws.

Sedition is defined as a subversive act involving speech, conduct or writings that go against the lawful authority.

One example is the case of Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda, who faced sedition charges after speculating about Uganda’s potential involvement in the death of the former leader of south Sudan, John Garang, who died in July 2005 when his helicopter crashed shortly after taking off from Uganda.

“Since democracy is the government of the people by the people for the people, open discussion is the essence of democracy and this entails criticisms. Sedition laws are made and used at will by despotic governments to suppress criticism,” says lawyer James Nangwala.

The high court agreed that the 1995 Uganda constitution cannot tolerate laws of sedition.

Joshua Kyalimpa says that only one journalist in Uganda has been sentenced under the sedition laws, which were kept as a tool to intimidate and threaten journalists.

The government has indicated that it will appeal the ruling, but nothing has been done so far.

But there are more legal battles against the government to be fought.

“Journalists, and even politicians, are still facing charges for defaming the president… people in a high government position. Some of them are facing charges for promoting sectarianism that is to divide people along tribal or ethnic lines,” says Nangwala.

“There are other bad laws”, adds Joshua Kyalimpa. “We’ve been complaining about the anti-terrorism act which was enacted following 11 September attacks in the US, and recently there were journalists summoned following articles related to the Kampala 11 July bomb blasts.”

The laws are sufficiently vague to comply with the interpretation of the government.

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