The Executive Director of Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda, a Press Freedom & Social Justice Advocate, and Human Rights advocate Robert Sempala has claimed that parliamentarians behind the Computer Misuse Act of 2022 are trying to protect themselves from criticism and public scrutiny.
Mr.Sempala made the assertions on the Brunch Talk show in an interview with the host Olive Najjuma.
According to Mr. Sempala, the Computer Misuse Act derides the existing laws on privacy, defamation, and libel whilst putting Journalism in peril.
"It complicates matters for the freedom of Expression, which is an inherent right for all Ugandans, including journalists who trade in information. Therefore, it is unfortunate that Parliament passed this bill without stiff resistance from members,” he explained
Adding, "We hope the President rejects signing it because it doesn't cure anything that Hon. Muhammad Nsereko tends to bring up."
The Parliament passed legislator Muhammad Nsereko's Computer Misuse Act on September 8, 2022. The Bill intended to regulate the spread of information online will criminalize using computers to send, write or share information likely to degrade/ divide/ spread hostility about a person, tribe, religion, gender, or ethnicity.
It also seeks to convict a person found guilty of taking pictures or recording someone's voice or video without their permission, including seeking permission from parents before filming or photographing children. An offender will face imprisonment of up to 10 years or a fine of 15 million shillings or both.
Many have alleged that the bill target online critical voices against public officials by killing journalism including the investigative form of journalism.
Also, it has sparked public concern as many on social media pointed to its loopholes, mainly describing it as a law to rob them of their Freedom of Speech and Expression.
To answer concerns of journalists being against the Bill because it seeks to criminalize false news which was ruled unconstitutional by Justice Mulenga in 2004, Sempala said the argument is false because many media houses have been tried for defamation and libel. After all, adding that sections 179 and 180 of the Penal Code Act address the same.
"Journalists aren't trying to cushion themselves against getting away with falsehoods because many media houses have been taken to court over that and paid handsomely to the victims. It is far-fetched to say that journalists are trying to cushion themselves," he defended.
Rather he posited that "the proponents of this law are trying to cushion themselves against being held accountable and being subjected to public scrutiny. They are also trying to restrain the media from playing its watchdog role.”
Additionally, he believed journalists will be disempowered by the law if it is assented to by the President arguing that society won't be able to access authentic news where leaders are put to account.
"We should note that the democratization process of Uganda is determined by the media. If the President signs it, it will create a huge lag in the strides we've been making towards democracy, including people's freedoms to expression during elections, holding leaders accountable," he said.
Brunch Talk is hosted by Olive Najjuma Monica every Saturday from Midday to 1 pm on RX Radio.