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Constitutional Court nullifies law on sedition

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - Kampala, 25 August 2010 - The Constitutional Court has declared the law on sedition null and void. The court ruling, which was delivered on the morning of 25 August 2010 by the court registrar, Asaph Ntegye Ruhinda, on behalf of five judges, including Justice Leticia Kikonyogo, Justice Steven Kavuma, Justice George Egwau, Justice Constance Byamugisha and Justice Augustine Nshiime, nullified sections of the Penal Code Act, namely 39 and 40 and Cap. 120, which define and establish the law on sedition.

"Judges ruled that these sections of the penal code are unconstitutional and inconsistent with Article 29 (1) which guarantees freedom of speech," said Ntegye. The existence of sedition sections do not follow within the acceptable limit of speech.

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) welcomes the court ruling which has broadened the space for free speech, which has been under attack for many years in Uganda.

In 2005, journalist Andrew Mwenda and the East African Media Institute, through lawyers James Nangwala and Kenneth Kakuru, petitioned the Constitutional Court, challenging the provisions on sedition in the Penal Code Act, arguing that it was violating the right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda.

Under the Penal Code Act, sedition is defined as when a person alters or publishes statements aimed at bringing hatred, contempt or disaffection against the president, the government or the judiciary. The Act provides for seven years of imprisonment on conviction. Mwenda was charged with sedition in 2005 arising from remarks he made during a talk show on K FM radio station.

According to the HRNJ-Uganda Mid-Year Press Freedom Index Report 2010, more than a dozen journalists and opposition political party supporters have been tried on sedition charges, including Lubaga north MP Betty Kamya, Mukono north MP Betty Nambooze and Medard Ssengona.

"I commend the court for having exercised its independence and struck sedition out of our law books. This law did not affect us (media) only but the entire country," said Mwenda. He has been charged with sedition 18 times out of the 25 charges he is facing in court.

The court has also made several sections in the Penal Code Act redundant, such as those which established the law on promoting sectarianism, including sections 42, 43 and 44.

The government has threatened to appeal the sedition ruling, as well as seeking further legal action against Mwenda, for promoting sectarianism, according to Principal State Attorney Patricia Mutetsi.

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