HRNJ-Uganda alert, Journalist convicted of criminal defamation

Kalangala, 3rd/October /2014; A Central Broadcasting Service (CBS) radio journalist, Ronald Ssembuusi has been convicted of criminal defamation by Kalangala Grade 1 Magistrate for voicing a story on November 17, 2011  implicating the former District Chairman Daniel Kikoola in the theft of solar panels donated by African Development Bank.

A statement implicating a person in the commission of a criminal offence and implies that the person is likely to be a suspect is definitely false and defamatory. At common law, a statement is defamatory if its natural and usual meaning is defamatory. For a matter to be defamatory, it also has to be false. Counsel for the accused talked about what she considered inconsistencies or lies by the witnesses. The most important piece of evidence was that the information was published about the complainant by the accused and the witnesses listened to the news. Other inconsistencies that counsel pointed on all the witnesses did not in any way affect this substantive evidence given. ” the trial magistrate Kenneth Gimugu held in a judgment read by Twakirye Samuel the new magistrate, in the absence of the accused.

He argued Ssembuusi’s counsel Catherine Anite dwelt extensively on the importance of freedom of speech and media but the case before court was not about the constitutionality of the offence and the constitutional court decided that section 179 of the Penal Code Act is a safeguard against the infringement of a person’s reputation.

He added; “In the premises, I find that the prosecution has proved its case beyond reasonable doubt and I find the accused guilty and convict him accordingly,” Gimugu ruled.

Sentence will be passed on October 17 2014 by the new magistrate, Samuel Twakyire, who ordered his sureties to produce him in Court on that day otherwise they will be committed to prison or forfeit their bond of shillings 1,000,000 each.

Ssembuusi, was on 3/12/2011 charged with criminal defamation contrary to section 179 and 180 (1) of the Penal Code Act for reporting that about 40 solar panels out the 80 donated to Kalangala district by the African Development to pump safe water went missing. The story alleged that Dan Kikoola, the former district chairman was a suspect in the ‘disappearance’ of the missing solar panels.

. It is unfortunate that court is determined to punish a messenger for airing a genuine concern of misappropriation of public resources by public officials. Those entrusted to manage public funds must account, the only way to do this is through the media and courts must support not stifle the process. Criminal defamation is an obstacle, it has been outlawed in many progressive jurisdictions, and Uganda should not remain behind,” said Ssempala Robert National coordinator HRNJ adding “we shall offer our full support to Ssembuusi, as we prepare to appeal the verdict”. 

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About Human Rights Network For Journalists-Uganda

HRNJ-Uganda was established in 2005 by a group of human rights-minded journalists who developed a sense of activism amidst a deteriorating context due to glaring abuses targeting the media. The network gained formal registration as an independent non-profit and non-partisan media organisation in 2006. The identity of HRNJ-Uganda lies with its diverse membership across the board including the print and electronic media, freelance investigative journalists and individuals from other professions.
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