Uganda’s Government Attempting To Silence Dissent With New Legislation

 familiar pattern of curtailing free expression and access to information in Uganda, as well as targeting critical voices online
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The recent passage of the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill of 2022 has sparked another round of debates and soul-searching about digital rights, particularly the freedom of expression in Uganda. The inception of the bill began early this year when Hon. Muhammad Nsereko an independent but National Resistance Movement (NRM) leaning Member of Parliament hinted at introducing the bill to combat fake and malicious information online.

The bill was passed despite strong objections from opposition politicians and civil society, who warned that it would be used as a tool for digital censorship. Among others, the bill aims to deter misuse of online platforms by criminalizing the writing, sending, or sharing of what it terms as hateful, unsolicited, misleading, or malicious information online.

This is, by now, a familiar pattern of curtailing free expression and access to information in Uganda, as well as targeting critical voices online. It is not that misuse of online platforms does not exist; they obviously do, but we shouldn’t allow the state to exploit these vices as opportunities to clamp down on legitimate criticism. We saw this, for example, in 2019 with the Computer Misuse Act of 2011, when writer and activist, Dr. Stella Nyanzi, was charged with cyber harassment and later convicted of the same for “insulting” the president.

Early this year, novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was charged with offensive communication under the same law for “insulting” the president’s son. In both cases, it is clear that Ugandans are heavily policed on social media and that the enforcement of the existing laws have been selectively applied to state critics or rather, that there is freedom of expression without a guarantee of freedom after expression.

Now, with the passing of the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill of 2022, it will act as a flexible tool for the state to worsen an already stifling environment for free expression online.
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