On May 10, 2023, the president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, signed into law the Law Revision (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act, 2023, which among other things repealed a number of provisions of the Penal Code Act, 1950, including the provisions on sedition and publication of false news and parts of the vagrancy provision.
The act amending the penal code repealed sections 39 and 40 of the code, which criminalized sedition. Section 40 of the penal code stated:
(1) Any person who –
(a) does or attempts to do or makes any preparation to do, or conspires with any person to do, any act with a seditious intention;
(b) utters any words with a seditious intention;
(c) prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication;
(d) imports any seditious publication, unless he or she has no reason to believe, the proof of which shall lie on him or her, that it is seditious,
commits an offence and is liable on first conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine not exceeding fifty thousand shillings [about US$13.75] or to both such imprisonment and fine, and for a subsequent conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.
Section 39 of the penal code defined the term “seditious intention” to include an intention “to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the person of the President” or “to excite any person to attempt to procure the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter in state as by law established.”
The repeal of sections 39 and 40 comes 13 years after the Constitutional Court found these sections unconstitutional, holding, “Sections 39 and 40 of the Penal Code are inconsistent with provisions of the Articles 29(1) (a) [the right to freedom of speech and expression] and 43(2) (c) [protection from political persecution] of the Constitution and are null and void. They are struck out of the Penal Code.”
Publication of False News
Also repealed is section 50 of the penal code, which criminalized publication of false news. It stated that “[a]ny person who publishes any false statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace commits a misdemeanour.” This offense was punishable by custodial sentence not exceeding two years. (Penal Code § 22.)
As in the case with sedition, this provision had been long nullified by a court. In a 2004 decision, the Ugandan Supreme Court found that section 50 of the penal code was inconsistent with article 29(1)(a) (freedom of the press and other media) of the constitution and therefore void. The court noted that
Rogues and Vagabonds
In addition, the act amending the penal code repealed parts of the vagrancy provision. One of the paragraphs in the vagrancy clause that the act repealed provided that any “suspected person or reputed thief who has no visible means of subsistence and cannot give a good account of himself or herself … shall be deemed to be a rogue and vagabond, and commits a misdemeanour and is liable for the first offence to imprisonment for six months, and for every subsequent offence to imprisonment for one year.” (§ 168(1)(c).) Another paragraph, also repealed by the act, stated a “person found wandering in or upon or near any premises or in any road or highway or any place adjacent thereto or in any public place at such time and under such circumstances as to lead to the conclusion that such person is there for an illegal or disorderly purpose … shall be deemed a rogue and vagabond” and subject to the same penalties. (§ 168(1)(c).)
Similar to the case of the provisions on sedition and publication of false news, the repeal of the vagrancy provisions follows a 2022 decision of the Constitutional Court in which the court found unconstitutional the above-described paragraphs under the rogues and vagabonds clause of the penal code, stating that “it is hereby held that sections 168 (l) (c) and (d) of the Penal Code Act are void for inconsistency with the Constitution.”
Hanibal Goitom, Law Library of Congress
August 3, 2023
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