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Legal Brains Trust Petitions East African Court of Justice Over Computer Misuse Act

Legal Brains Trust has petitioned the East African Court of Justice seeking to quash the recently enacted Computer Misuse Amendment Act of 2022.

According to Legal Brains, the law infringes on the principles of democracy,  rule of law, accountability, transparency, social justice, and equal opportunities, as well as the recognition, promotion, protection, and maintenance of universally accepted standards of human rights which are enshrined in the East African Community Treaty where Uganda is a signatory. 

Last month, Parliament passed the Computer Misuse (Amendment Act), 2022 which was last week assented to by the President

The Private Member law which was tabled by the Kampala Central Member of Parliament Muhammad Nsereko makes it a crime to write, send or share hateful, unsolicited, misleading, or malicious information online.  The law also criminalizes the use of photos on social media without the express permission of the owners.

Further, it prohibits sharing information that is likely to degrade or ridicule another person, group of persons, tribe, religion, ethnicity, or gender, and children without the consent of their parents or guardians.

The same Act creates a punishment ranging between five to 10 years or 10 million shillings or both for people found in breach, and it further criminalizes recording another person’s voice or video without their consent and unauthorized access to personal information.

In the petition filed before the Kampala Sub Registry of the East African Court of Justice, Legal Brains Trust argues that the enactment of the law in question was arbitrarily and or unjustifiably initiated by a “wayward’ member of the Parliament of Uganda who was irrationally or corruptly allowed to move a private member’s bill containing clauses that blatantly threatened to violate the principles of good governance enshrined in the East African treaty.

They further accuse the government of violating its duties under Articles in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Constitution as well as binding precedents that set a high standard for democracy and freedom of expression in the region. 

The petition is supported by an affidavit of Isabella Nakiyonga, a Legal Officer of Legal Brains Trust who says the procedure adopted by the Parliamentary Committee on Information, Communication Technology and National Guidance was so defective. Nakiyonga says that the committee did not adequately discharge the duty of ensuring public participation in the scrutiny of the bill, or the new clauses that the committee belatedly sought to insert in the bill after the closure of public hearings.

“I know, for instance, that the criteria and procedure adopted by the said committee fell short of the requisite diligence, competence, honesty, probity, impartiality, integrity, transparency, and accountability as the committee arbitrarily handpicked the stakeholders with whom it interfaced, and unreasonably excluded or sidelined relevant agencies like the Uganda Law Reform Commission which is statutorily mandated to facilitate amendments of this kind”, reads Nakiyonga’s affidavit.

Legal Brains Trust wants the court to issue an order directing the government to cease and desist from implementing any part of the contested law, order that Uganda amends its law to reflect the findings of the Court and report back to the Court within 60 days or any time as the court may determine. The petitioner who wants the law nullified also wants to be awarded the costs of the suit. 

Asked why Legal Brains Trust has decided to file a case in the East African Court of Justice, not Ugandan Courts, the Executive Director of Legal Brains Trust lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde said that the courts in Uganda are biased. 

According to Ssemakadde, at their 23rd annual conference in February, the senior judges and justices of Uganda passed an anti-democratic resolution literally urging the government to conduct further surveillance and repression of critical voices on the Internet.

The East African Court of Justice has already summoned the Attorney Uganda who has been listed as the only respondent to file the defense of government within 45 days or else the court will proceed in their absence.    

Legal Brains Trust’s petition becomes the second entity to challenge the Computer Misuse Act Amendment of 2022. On Monday, a group of 13 people majority of who are journalists attached to the Alternative Digitalk Online television challenged the law in the Constitutional Court on grounds that it has far-reaching implications on the right to practice journalism as a trade, access to information, pluralism, freedom of expression, fair hearing among others.

In 2019, the Uganda Law Society challenged the Computer Misuse Act specifically the sections that create the offenses of offensive communication and cyber harassment on grounds that they violate freedom of expression.  The Constitutional Court is yet to decide on that case.

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