, KAMPALA, Aug 25 – A Ugandan court on Wednesday declared the country\’s sedition laws unconstitutional, effectively quashing several pending criminal cases against journalists.
"The sections (in the penal code) on sedition are inconsistent with the constitution," court registrar Ruhinda Ntengye stated, reading from a decision penned by five constitutional court justices.
"They are therefore null and void," the decision said, adding that the sedition laws as written are so broadly defined they infringe on the free speech rights enshrined in Uganda\’s constitution.
Wednesday\’s ruling stems from a petition filed in 2005 by Andrew Mwenda, a prominent Ugandan journalist who faced sedition charges after speculating about Uganda\’s potential involvement in the death of former south Sudan leader John Garang.
Garang died in July 2005 when his helicopter crashed shortly after it left Uganda.
"Today is not just a good day for journalists. It is a good day for all Ugandans," Mwenda told AFP. "Good things come to those who wait."
Kenneth Kakuru, a lawyer for the East Africa Media Institute, which joined Mwenda\’s petition in 2006, applauded the ruling, but lamented the judges\’ decision to uphold a provision on "promoting sectarianism."
Angelo Izama, a journalist who was charged with sedition after he compared Uganda\’s regime to the Philippines under dictator Ferdinand Marcos, said the key to the ruling is that it frees journalists from the burden of regular court appearances.
Human Rights Watch Wednesday called the ruling "positive" but argued Uganda remains a difficult place for journalists.
"Journalists face a range of intimidating tactics, and the state needs to do more to protect free media across the country," Maria Burnett, Uganda researcher at the New York-based group, told AFP.