By Andrew Irumba
According to Kampala Central Member of Parliament Nsereko Muhammad, if I find someone urinating on the roadside and want to write about it with evidence that I found him or her, I must first ask for their permission to take their picture or video. If I do without their permission, on conviction, I should sleep in the coolers for 10 years, or pay a fine of UGX7m, or both!
If one shares inaccurate information/fake/incorrect information, on conviction, such person should sleep in coolers for seven years or pay UGX 7m or both! And so on.
Hon. Nsereko proposes that if a public servant is convicted under this computer misuse act, s/he, after their sentence, they should be barred from public office for 10 years. If s/he was already occupying a public office, they should be evicted immediately on conviction and still be barred from occupying the same for 10yrs.
To begin with, Hon. Nsereko is evidently paranoid and needs to be rescued from himself. I suspect this anger emanates from the encounter he had with a city lawyer Isaac Ssemakade on TV. But people like Nsereko have not learnt from John Patrick Amama Mbabazi’s experience with Public Order Management Act (POMA). In 2001 when Rtd Col Doctor Kizza Besigye was falsely accused of rape to deter him from standing, if this bill was in force as Hon. Nsereko wants it, finding any content Dr. Besigye had ever shared on his phone or email and declare it fake or defamatory and therefore ‘charge’ him and bar him from standing for 10yrs, and after 10yrs they find another ‘fake’ news he ever shared, would have been the shortest short cut to curtail his Presidential bid.
Recently during Arua by elections, Robert Ssentamu Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine ‘acquired’ guns among other military hardware in just minutes, although the same would soon disappear equally in minutes, as they ‘acquired’. But this is along and ‘tedious’ method. With Nsereko’s bill, it will be very easy for any target to ‘trade’ in ‘fake’ news or ‘defamatory’ information depending on who the ‘judge’ is.
Nsereko, in short might have millions of Ugandans in jails for sharing what he considers inaccurate information, but then who has the weighing scale to ‘measure’ what’s fake news and correct news? Because we would go there to first ‘weigh’ the information before sharing. What Nsereko considers inaccurate in his eyes might be correct on the other side. For instance, during Soroti and Kayunga elections I had video clips of Police officers ballot staffing, and others buttering civilians, but when I asked the comment of the police leadership for a comment so I could balance the story, the leadership said the videos were fake. But I’m the one who took them and I know they were not fake. So in that scenario, they have their view based on the narrative they want to push, and indeed to them these videos will be branded ‘fake’, and so I should serve 10yrs once I release them.
What Nsereko is trying to do is to completely shut us up and only open our mouths when we have something positive to write about him and his like-minded team. If we have positive we should write, but if it’s negative then we should keep quiet, even when it’s factual, because the same cabal will have the art of turning facts into false.
Because it’s very easy in today’s Uganda to summersault factual videos into ‘fake’ by simply finding ways of ‘convincing’ the court that it’s not true when actually it is. Freedom of the press and the freedom of the civilians to freely express themselves is being threatened by such selfish attempts to muzzle out even the remaining little space. Even the current act as it has serious clauses that infringe on the right to expression and press freedom and it’s being challenged already, now Nsereko wants to tighten the noose further.
The new online media is a good thing to ever happen. Because now it has bolstered citizen journalism and awareness levels of the citizens have immensely improved. During campaigns, politicians no longer pay a lot of money to traditional media booking for space as they now talk to their electorates directly on their phones via WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter etc.
All the worries Nsereko raises in his bill are already taken care of by existing laws. For instance, Nsereko can take to Court Mr Isaac if he feels he was abused as opposed to what Isaac believes about him. Since they were on air, he can even petition Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) and it will act because it’s mandated to do so.
His argument about children’s rights, there’s a law that protects the rights of children. That’s the same law the then Gender Minister Nakiwala used to assert and protect the right of Fresh Kid recently among others. All he needs to do is to ensure that the available laws are implemented to the latter. I urge parliament to dustbin this bill and protect the freedom of speech and press.
If you haven’t seen Nsereko’s Amendment Bill, click 👉Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill.
Andrew Irumba Katusabe is the President INDOJA-U and CEO TheSpy Uganda, an online newspaper.