Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has passed the highly-controversial Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill into law, officially criminalizing a series of digital activity in the country.
The bill is an amendment to the 2011 Computer Misuse Bill which was aimed at catering for the safety and security of the digital space by preventing misuse and abuse of information systems.
The amendment was passed by the Ugandan parliament only a month ago and the Presidential Press Unit officially announced on Thursday, October 13 that the President has signed the bill into law along with three other Acts which include the Physical Planners’ Registration Act, the Kampala Capital City (Amendment) Act, and the Mining and Minerals Act.
The bill has been at the receiving end of serious criticism in recent times for being used as a tool to suppress the freedom of expression in the country. In July, a member of the Ugandan parliament, Muhammed Nsereko, proposed an amendment to the 2011 Act, suggesting that the Act “does not specifically address the regulation of information sharing on social media” or is “not adequate to deter the vice.”
The amendment bill, which has now been signed into law, states in Clause 5 that “a person who uses social media to publish, distribute or share information, prohibited under the laws of Uganda or using a disguised or false identity, commits an offence.”
It also placed prohibitions on activities relating to online harrassment as well as utilising the digital space to write, send or share information which is likely to ridicule, degrade or demean another person, tribe, religion, or gender.
The bill has been thoroughly criticised by experts as they believe it will be used as a tool to further supress the rights of Ugandans.
In a statement released last month by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the organization states that “the newly passed Bill is a threat to digital rights and digital civic space and falls short of the key international minimum standards. As such, it is imperative for the law to be challenged in court and for the president to deny its assent and return it to parliament for reconsideration.”
In 2019, Makerere University lecturer and social activist Stella Nyanzi was jailed for publishing a critical poem of President Museveni on social media. The writer called the President “a pair of buttocks” in the said Facebook post and was convicted for the supposed crime.
Aminah Zawedde, permanent secretary for the Ugandan ministry of information and communication technology, stated that the ministry was against the bill as she called for its withdrawal back in August.
However, the bill has gotten the approval and signature of the President which means it has passed its final stage for becoming law. It is still unclear when enforcement will begin as the country’s government is yet to release an official statement on that.