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Press freedom victory, sedition law abolished

Five Ugandan judges ruled in favour of press freedom on 25 August by declaring the country's criminal sedition offense unconstitutional, report the Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). But the government continues to threaten journalists with other legal actions.

The judges ruled that the sedition law was inconsistent with freedom of speech. 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 Penal Code Act provides for seven years of imprisonment on conviction.

Journalist Andrew Mwenda faces 17 counts of sedition after he was charged in 2005 with sedition for being critical of the government on a radio talk show. More than a dozen journalists and opposition political party supporters have been tried on sedition charges. The recent ruling was based on a 2005 constitutional review petition filed by the East African Media Institute and Mwenda. But the government has threatened to appeal the sedition ruling.

Mwenda, an outspoken commentator, also faces eight counts of "promoting sectarianism" under Uganda's penal code. The language that defines the promotion of sectarianism offense is so vague that it can be used to silence critical reporting.

Meanwhile, the government has issued an injunction against reporting about a police investigation into the 11 July bomb blasts in Kampala. Anyone defying this order will be charged with terrorism, which could result in the death penalty upon conviction.

HRNJ-Uganda, an interim IFEX member, says the government has criminalised the work of the media and denied the public's right to access information about the outcome of the investigation.

But journalists are fighting back and more press battles will be taking place in Ugandan courts. There is expected to be a ruling on the petition of four "Monitor" journalists who are challenging the constitutionality of the offense of criminal libel after they were charged in 2008. In a separate case, Kalundi Robert Sserumaga, a radio personality, is suing the police and the government for unlawful arrest for his September 2009 detention.

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