Journalist’s detention shows police ignorance

On April 22, police in Bushenyi detained Daily Monitor journalist Zadock Amanyisa on charges of disseminating false information. The charges arose from a story in which the journalist quoted Minister for Security Mary Karooro as praising the Mayumba Kumi (10 households) security-watch system during President Obote’s regime in the 1980s.

The minister protested, saying she never mentioned Obote’s name in her remarks made at a public event. She also claimed Mayumba Kumi did not exist during Obote’s time but only during the brief Uganda National Liberation Front (UNLF) post-Amin government. First of all, there are distortions in the minister’s claims about Mayumba Kumi.

However, regardless of the accuracy of the Daily Monitor story or Minister Karooro’s claims, the substantive issu is the police’s blatant or deliberate violation of the law and the Constitution.

In 2004, the Supreme Court, in the case of Charles Onyango Obbo and Andrew Mwenda versus the Attorney General in Constitutional Appeal No. 2 of 2002, nullified the criminalisation of publication or dissemination of false news under Section 50 of the Penal Code Act.

The court ruled that criminalising publication of a false news, rumour or report was an infringement on the freedom of expression. The court accordingly nullified the impugned section and expunged it from our law books.
The court held that “a person’s expression or statement is not precluded from the constitutional protection simply because it is thought by another or others to be false, erroneous, controversial or unpleasant.”
This automatically became law and part of the provisions of the Constitution. In this case, whether the minister or the police perceived the story to be “false or unpleasant” it would not make it a criminal offence to justify the arrest and detention of the journalist on charges based on a nullified offence.

The police’s constitutional mandate is to keep law and order. They cannot claim to be ignorant of this landmark ruling by the Supreme Court, which is now a law.

And if they are, then by inference, they are not competent to keep the law because they don’t understand it. The minister too should restrain herself from stampeding the police into breaking the law and the Constitution. The police should therefore discontinue pursuing the journalist over all the purported charges of false news.

The police cannot seek refuge under the provisions of the Press and Journalists Act 1995.

Any law that is inconsistent with any provision of the Constitution is null and void to the extent of the inconsistence. Given that the Supreme Court ruling on false news became part of the constitutional provisions, no section of the Press and Journalists Act can override it.

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SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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