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Uganda court overturns anti-sedition law

A panel of the Ugandan Constitutional Court [official website] ruled unanimously Wednesday that a law criminalizing sedition violates the guarantees of free speech and freedom of the press under the Ugandan Constitution [text, PDF]. The law made it a crime to say or publish statements that promoted hatred, contempt or disaffection for the Ugandan government, president or judiciary [GlobaLex backgrounder]. A conviction could carry a sentence of seven years. The law was first challenged by Andrew Mwenda four years ago, after he was charged with sedition [JURIST report] in 2005. The court held that the law unconstitutionally restricts [New Vision report] the rights of Ugandans under Article 29 of the Constitution. The decision drops charges against 10 other journalists and five politicians [AP report] who had faced charges under the law. The court allowed charges of promoting sectarianism against Mwenda to stand, however, finding that the crime was allowed because it was in existence prior to the adoption of the current Ugandan Constitution in 1995.

In 2008, Ugandan police arrested Mwenda and two other journalists [JURIST report] as part of a sedition investigation. The journalists worked on two articles published in the Independent [media website] that were critical of the Ugandan military. Mwenda's arrest occurred after he was released on bail in August 2005, following his plea of not guilty to charges of sedition. Mwenda was charged after criticizing the Ugandan government concerning the death of Sudanese Vice-President John Garang. Mwenda alleged that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni [official profile], a close friend of Garang's, was responsible for his death through sheer incompetence. Museveni had lent Garang the aircraft he was flying in when the crash occurred [JURIST report].

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