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Uganda17 February 2004

Supreme Court invalidates "false news" law

Reporters Without Borders today welcomed an 11 February ruling by the Ugandan Supreme Court that a law banning "publication of false news" was unconstitutional..

It said it was a boost to press freedom and hoped the authorities would also remove other restrictions on the media. It noted that about 50 privately-owned radio stations were threatened with closure by the broadcasting supervisory body and that several journalists, including two with the independent daily The Monitor, were being prosecuted for alleged terrorism for reporting on the activities of rebel forces.

Section 50 of the criminal code allows politicians to intimidate journalists who criticise them by claiming their reports are subversive and brandishing the threat of two years imprisonment for allegedly "false news." The Monitor had sought to have the law struck down several times since 1997.

The Supreme Court’s seven judges unanimously ruled that section 50 conflicted with article 29 of the 1995 national constitution that guaranteed freedom of expression, saying the law did not specify what material could or could not be published and thus hampered the media from doing its job.

Monitor editor Charles Onyango-Obbo and reporter Andrew Mwenda were accused in 1997 of publishing "false news" in an article headed "Kabila paid Uganda in gold." They appealed against the "false news" law to the Constitutional Court but lost, though they were acquitted of the offence after two years. They then appealed to the Supreme Court.

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