Kampala, 10th/February/2012; The Uganda Record Managing editor, Timothy Kalyegira’s has asked the High Court to interpret the law under which the state is trying him with criminal libel.
Through the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda), Ladislaus Rwakafuzi, Kalyegira’s lawyer argued that the law in Uganda does not address online publication. Under Section 179 of the Penal Code Act, the word publish could mean an effigy, cartoon, or written word on actual paper.
Therefore, publishing online is not envisaged under this law because it is not physical. The publication brought to court was not printed by the accused but rather by the complainant which is the state. It is not enough to say “you published,” argued Rwakafuzi.
Pursuant to the Magistrates Courts Act section 206, Rwakafuzi prayed that a question of law be reserved for interpretation of the High Court. Article 28 (12) of the Constitution stipulates that no person shall be convicted of a criminal offence unless the offence is defined and the penalty for it prescribed by law. Under the current law, publishing online cannot amount to criminal libel within the prescribed section.
A question was therefore reserved for the High Court to answer whether publishing online can constitute a commission of an offence under section 179 of the penal code act. Therefore the proceedings at the City Hall Magistrates Court have been stayed pending the decision of the High Court in order to ensure that the accused is entitled to a fair hearing and this entails him fully understanding the nature of the offence and the charges preferred against him.
The State accuses Karyegira of writing defamatory materials against the President on his online Uganda Record when he attributed the July 10th, 2010 twin bombs in Kampala to the Ugandan security system. The government had blamed the attacks on the Al-Shabaab, a terrorist organization attached to Al-Qaeda.
Karyegira is required to report to this Court every last Friday of the month for purposes of mention.
“HRNJ-Uganda is concerned about the nature of this case since it is not provided for in the current framework. It’s a ploy to keep all critical journalists at bay by having many cases brought against them. It is our prayer that this case is thrown out since it has no legal entity in our laws,” said the HRNJ-Uganda Programme Coordinator Wokulira Ssebaggala.