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East African court sets new date for criminal defamation case (Demo)

The East African Court of Justice in Arusha will on 12th November, 2015 resume the hearing of a case challenging Uganda’s criminal defamation law.

According to the hearing notice issued on 21st September 2015, the Registrar of the Court said the case will be heard at 9.30am at Arusha by a panel of five judges led by the Principal Judge Honorable Lady Justice Monica Mugenyi. Others are; the Deputy Principal Judge Honorable Justice Isaac Lenaola, Hon. Dr. Justice Faustine Ntezilyayo, Hon. Mr. Justice Fakihi A. Jundu and Hon. Mr. Justice Audace Nguye.

In December 2015, the late Ronald Ssembuusi, a former correspondent of a local FM station, Central Broadcasting Services (CBS), filed a case with the court challenging Uganda’s continued use and application of the criminal defamation law. Ssembuusi, who was in 2014 sentenced and convicted to a fine of one million Uganda shillings or one year in prison by a Magistrates Court in Uganda on charges of defamation, argues that his sentence and conviction based on the criminal defamation law violates the fundamental principals of the Treaty for the Establsihment of the East African Community.

The court will, in November, hear the request by Media Legal Defence Initiative, a UK based organization with 19 other local and international organizations to assist court in determining the case. The 20 organizations say that they will provide court with useful independent and unbiased information pertaining to the law of criminal defamation. However, the Uganda government lawyers argue that the Organizations have vested interest in the case, because they work on freedom of expression issues, including fighting criminal defamation laws in the world and as such, they are not neutral.

On 31st July 2015, court started hearing the matter but it could not progress because Ssembuusi had since passed on and this created a need to appoint a legal representative to replace the deceased in the reference. It was realized that although the case does not abate because of the death of the complainant, there was no clear procedure of appointing a legal representative in the treaty. Court directed Ssembuusi’s lawyers to file a notice of change of representative which they did.

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