By Spy Uganda
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a communications legislation to curb hate speech, his office said on Thursday, but critics warn it could squash free speech and cripple electronic commerce.
The “Computer Misuse Amendment Act” was introduced by a ruling party legislator then passed by parliament last month amid criticism by rights activists and opposition politicians.
The law proscribes sending or sharing of information that promotes hate speech, is false or malicious and was unsolicited. It also bans sending information through a computer that could “ridicule, degrade or demean another person.”
Museveni, 78, in power since 1986, has previously repeatedly voiced anger at Ugandans who share what he said are lies about his government on social media.
Opponents of the law say it will stifle freedom of expression in a country where many of Museveni’s opponents, for years unable to stage street protests, often raise their concerns on Twitter and other online sites.
Others say it will kill investigative journalism.
The law is “a blow to online civil liberties in Uganda,” according to an analysis by a watchdog group known as Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa, or CIPESA.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is among groups that urged Museveni to veto the bill, noting its potential to undermine press freedom.
“Ugandan legislators have taken the wrong turn in attempting to make an already problematic law even worse. If this bill becomes law, it will only add to the arsenal that authorities use to target critical commentators and punish independent media,” one of the group members, Muthoki Mumo said in a statement after lawmakers passed the bill.
Unwanted Witness, a digital rights pressure group, has also described the legislation as vague and overly broad, saying it will have the “effect of unjustifiably restricting legitimate freedom of speech and expression.”
Indiscriminately banning sending and sharing of unsolicited information, they also say will potentially reduce internet usage and cripple e-commerce.