Constitutional Court Rejects Bid to Strike Down Anti-terrorism Law

Justice Stephen Musota wrote the lead judgement of the Constitutional Court that refused to strike down Uganda's anti-terrorism law

The constitutional court has rejected a petition seeking to annul several provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act on ground that they are unconstitutional.

The petition was brought before the court by rights group, Unwanted witness.

In its Judgment delivered yesterday, Tuesday 22nd November, the Constitutional court tossed arguments made by the group that sections; 7(2), 9(1), 9(2), 10(2), 11(1) (c) and 19 of the Anti-terrorism Act were unconstitutional for failing to define the offence of terrorism properly, infringing on freedom of expression and fettering privacy rights.

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Unwanted witness had also challenged the regulation of interception of communications Act.

These provisions of the anti-terrorism law criminalize establishment of terrorist groups, holding of meetings for purposes of terrorism, and empower the government to search premises and intercept communications of persons suspected of terrorism – including those who will PROBABLY commit it.

However, the rights group had claimed these provisions are being abused by the government to detain people on account of being terrorists because the definition of terrorism is “overly broad.”

People who would otherwise be penalized under the penal code on charges of holding illegal assemblies are being reprimanded for being terrorists instead, the group had told the Constitutional court.

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The five-member bench of the Court, however, had none of this, unanimously dismissing Unwanted witness’ petition.

The court found nothing to suggest the definition of terrorism was improper noting it was in line with international anti- terrorism frameworks.

And that the provisions of the law did not violate the said constitutionally guaranteed rights reasoning the rights are not absolute and can be restricted in interest of national security.

Justice Stephen Musota (who wrote the lead judgment) was of the view that there are proper judicial safeguards around interception of communications and searching of premises belonging to people suspected of terrorism.

The law empowers the minister of internal affairs to authorize a person to wiretap communications of a terror suspect but such authorized person must first make an application before and obtain an order from a Judge.

“The right to privacy of person, home and other property is not absolute and can be subjected to regulations sanctioned by lawful orders of court.

“ The rights and freedoms enshrined under Article 27 are not under Article 44 of the Ugandan constitution which prohibits derogation from particular human rights and freedoms.

“ The provisions of Section 19 of the Anti-terrorism Act… and the Regulation of interception of communications Act, 2010 are demonstrably justifiable limitations in free and democratic societies.

“ They can be invoked in public interest for the protection of life, property, and the rights of others, to protect national security and in the process of detecting and preventing crime.” Justice Stephen Musota ruled.

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The Case is Unwanted Witness Vs. Attorney General Constitutional petition No.07 of 2017; Representation: Ms. Nakigudde for the Petitioner and Mr. Geoffrey Maddette for the Attorney General

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Benjamin is a Digital Legal News Journalist (trained by Reuters) and digital media enthusiast who founded The Legal Reports website in January, 2020 while a fourth year law student at Makerere University school of law.

Prior to that, Benjamin used to write amateur blogs and some of his legal commentaries were published by the Daily Monitor and Independent Magazine - both leading publications in Uganda. He covers lawyers, law students, judges, judiciary, courts, law schools, and law firms.

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