Court acquits journalists of defamation charges

This statement was first published by Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda.

The Chief Magistrates Court at Buganda Road has acquitted four journalists of criminal defamation and has found guilty the man accused of providing the defamatory information.

On 13 August 2015 the journalists – Madina Nalwanga and Patrick Tumwesigye of New Vision, and Benon Tugumiisirize, Ronald Nahabwe formerly of Red Pepper – were charged publishing articles that defamed businessmen, Ephraim Ntaganda and Drake Lubega. The articles alleged that the duo wanted to kill one Ssegawa Tamale over a land wrangle.

In his ruling, the Chief Magistrate Jameson Karemani said the journalists published the story without verifying the information given to them, but he could not hold them liable for their negligence.

“I therefore do not find (them) criminal liable since they had no intention to defame,” he said.

The Chief Magistrate however found Mr Tamale liable for his provision of defamatory information to the journalists.

“Since the story that was published had not bee proved to be true, the provider (Ssegawa) of the information participated in the publication and had the intent to defame, and I accordingly convict him,” he ruled.

Following their acquittal, the journalists said they were happy to regain their freedom and were grateful to the Vision Group and Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda for the legal support given to them.

Criminal defamation is a serious threat to press freedom and an unnecessary restriction to the enjoyment of press freedom and freedom of expression. The law is always invoked under the guise of protecting reputation of people mainly the powerful. In 2009, the Constitutional Court of Uganda held that criminal defamation is necessary to protect the people’s reputation.

The Kenyan High Court, in February 2017, ruled that criminal defamation is not a necessary restriction to freedom of expression and as such is unconstitutional. The same position was held by the African Court on Human and People’s Rights in December 2014. Several African countries like Zimbabwe and Zambia have taken the same path.

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