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Tech-savvy ‘barefoot law’ opens doors of Ugandan justice

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– Justice, not mob violence –

The site offers an employment guide and a will template for free download, as well as Uganda’s constitution – something Abila said needed to be consulted as much as religious texts.

“It gives you your legal rights on earth, while the religious book gives you your rights in heaven,” he stated.

With parliament passing a series of laws – including controversial statutes outlawing homosexual acts – it can be hard for ordinary people as well as policeman on the ground to keep up.

“There is this thinking that the law is a magic bullet, and in the case of any ‘social problem’ – like HIV, homosexuality, miniskirts – just bring in a law and it will be sorted out,” said Abila.

In the case of the anti-porn law, Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo initially insisted it meant women could be locked up for wearing skimpy clothes in public.

But the law passed in December 2013 not only has a sweeping definition of “pornography” with no clear mention of what that means – it also contains no reference to a miniskirt.

Last year, the Barefoot Law team were bombarded with up to 200 queries a day from across the country worried about the law – including women stripped by mobs for sporting miniskirts.

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“People were taking things into their own hands,” said Abila, adding that the law had “opened a Pandora’s box”.

One woman was nearly stripped by a gang in Mbale in eastern Uganda, yet police failed to help her.

Barefoot Law shared her experience online. Within an hour, 7,000 people had viewed their alert, with local media and police informed of the reality of the law.

“We tried to educate people, saying: ‘In case any of you decided to take this law into your own hands, you’ll be charged with indecent assault, assault or battery’,” said Abila.

“For all you women, in case you’re a victim call this number, you can get in touch with us or the police.”

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