The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed in very similar terms by both Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights(UDHR),1 a UN General Assembly resolution, and Article 19(2) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),2 a formally binding legal treaty ratified by 165 States.3 The latter states:
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any other media of
The national constitution of Uganda has provisions under chapter four articles; 29 (1) (a) (b) (c) (d) and (e) of the constitution which provides for freedom of speech, expression. Whereas, the legislations in place were sufficient enough to guarantee freedom of expression and association, government of Uganda passed law that infringes on Articles 29(1) (a) (b) (c) (d) and (e) of the constitution which provides for freedom of speech, expression. The Act does not also comply with the regional and international treaties to which the country is a member.
Government of Uganda through the enactment of the Public Order Management Act (POM Act), has dealt exercising the right to freedom of expression and association a big blow. The shrinking spaces for citizens to exercise their right to freely express and themselves has greatly affected citizens’ participation in government programs and attempts to hold public offices accountable.
The Act prohibits public meetings at and around public places by designing them as “restricted areas”, where entry is prohibited with punishment of two years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of 960,000 Uganda shillings or both (Article 13(3). It is also worrying that wide-ranging and discretionary powers are given to the law enforcement authorities to disperse spontaneous assemblies under certain vaguely defined circumstances (Article 7(2)) and public meetings “in order to prevent violence, restore order, and preserve the peace” (Article 9(2)(f).
The POM Act will lead to a further deterioration of the civic space in Uganda, and may hamper civil society actions that involve discussions related to governance and accountability, rule of law and more generally human rights, or anything within the spectrum of “public interest” will only be held provided police permission and supervision is granted.
Other than the current legislation, many Uganda activists who use the media have been targeted from time to time for the view and ideas the share with the public. As a consequence, media freedoms have been clamped down, public spaces where citizens can air their programs narrowed down and in many cases media censorship.
Why Freedom of Expression is relevant
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It also underpins most other rights and allows them to flourish. The right to speak your mind freely on important issues in society, access information and hold the powers that be to account, plays a vital role in the healthy development process of any society
The lack of access to freedom of expression is a problem that particularly affects the already marginalised
If citizens are unable to communicate their ideas, views, worries and needs effectively, means they are often excluded from meaningful participation in society, and from the opportunity to better their own circumstances. In other words, discrimination is one of the core elements of unequal access to freedom of expression.
Access to free expression is also vital both to support the development process and as a development goal in its own right.
Amartya Sen cited freedom of expression as both the primary end and the principal means of development in his book— Development as Freedom.
TLC is committed to supporting communities effectively utilize the available spaces effectively exercise its right to freedom of expression and association. TLC is also running a public campaign to lobby government bodies to influence and push for the repealing of Public Order Management Act.