AUGUST 26, 2010: Ugandan given freedom to question the President

Ugandan given freedom to question the President

SOURCE: The Monitor

By Alfred Nyongesa Wandera

The Constitutional Court has struck out the law of sedition from the Penal Code, paving way for Ugandans to enjoy full freedom of speech and expression.
Five judges of the Constitutional Court led by Deputy Chief Justice Leticia Mukasa Kikonyogo overwhelmingly agreed that the existence of sedition in the Penal Code is unconstitutional as it infringes on the freedom of speech and expression of Ugandans.

The ruling
“The State Attorney merely cited the sections in the Penal Code on the law of sedition but did not adduce evidence to justify limitation of freedom of speech and expression. On that account, we allow the petition on sedition,” Constitutional Court Registrar Asaph Ntengye read the typed judgment.

Sedition is where a person utters or publishes statements aimed at bringing hatred, contempt or disaffection against the President, the Government or the Judiciary.

The judgment follows a petition filed by East African Media Institute and Independent Magazine Managing Editor Andrew Mwenda in 2005 when he was arrested over statements he made while still the political editor at Daily Monitor and host of Andrew Mwenda Live programme on KFM Radio.

Mr Mwenda was accused of inciting public hatred towards the person of the President when he repeatedly said, during the programme, that the government of Uganda was partly responsible for the death of former President of South Sudan John Garang.

Struck off
Consequently, sections 39 and 40 of the Penal Code that had allowed existence of sedition have been struck out and sections 42, 43, and 44 which relate to sedition have been declared redundant by the Constitutional Court.

However, Mr Mwenda and his co-petitioner, lost the petition on sectarianism, after the judges saw nothing unconstitutional in its existence in the Penal Code Act.
But Mr Mwenda vowed to appeal the decision to retain the law of sectarianism.
And in what may turn into another protracted legal battle, the Senior State Attorney, Ms Patricia Mutesi, vowed to appeal the court’s decision to strike out the law of sedition, in the Supreme Court.

Mr Haruna Kanabi is the only person who has ever been convicted of sedition.
In 1995, he was charged with publishing a false statement that was deemed likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or disturb the public peace.
The false statements were that the President of Uganda had visited the 40th District of Uganda (a reference to Rwanda) to solicit for votes in the presidential election.

In upholding the conviction, the judge then noted that “it is common knowledge that Rwanda is not a district of Uganda. It therefore follows that the appellant and others published a false statement.”

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