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Uganda to jail people for sharing info about people without their consent

A threat to journalism.
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Activists in Uganda filed a legal challenge against a controversial new internet law that they say will make investigative journalism harder. The bill was passed by the national assembly in September and signed by President Yoweri Museveni last week.

The bill introduced new restrictions to an already-controversial law passed in 2011 on the “misuse” of computers. It was introduced by a lawmaker, Muhammad Nsereko, who said that it will prevent people hiding behind a computer.

The new law carries penalties of up to seven years in prison for sharing information about a person without their consent and intercepting information without authorization.

In a statement to the Associated Press, Nsereko said: “Yes, we live in the digital space. But do you have the right to take my picture and use it for your interests?”

The activists claim that the legislation violates freedom of expression and will limit some kinds of digital work, like investigative journalism.

Critics of the law note that it will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression, in a country where social media might be the only place to express dissent. For years, opponents of the president, who has ruled the country since 1986, were not allowed to protest in the streets.

“This piece of legislation threatens the right to freedom of expression online, including the right to receive and impart information, on the pretext of outlawing unsolicited, false, malicious, hateful, and unwarranted information,” Amnesty International’s Muleya Mwananyanda said.

“It is designed to deliberately target critics of the government and it will be used to silence dissent and prevent people from speaking out.”

He acknowledged that the law has some useful provisions, like the responsible coverage of children. However, “it introduces punitive penalties for anyone accused of so-called hate speech.”

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