2 January 2014

Uganda: Pornography Law - Editors to Face Seven Years in Jail

Photo: Sandesh Bhugaloo/RNW
Media houses and tabloids in Uganda to face jail over Anti-Pornography Bill (file photo)

Media houses, especially tabloids such as The Red Pepper, Hello and The Kampala Sun, could become first offenders and victims of a government purge on pornography once the president assents to the Anti-Pornography Bill, the legislation's biggest government promoter, Fr Simon Lokodo, the Ethics and Integrity minister, has said.

Human rights activists however, say the minister's threat is an attack on media freedom. Explaining the implementation strategy of the Anti-Pornography Bill that was passed into law by Parliament last week, Lokodo told The Observer in a recent interview that he was waiting for the president to assent to the bill.

If that is done, he said, the law's enforcement would start with media houses that are known to publish and broadcast pornographic material.

"We are going to enforce the law without compromise. So, the moment it commences to be law, the Red Pepper people, the Hello magazine and all their rivals that publish pornographic material will be closed and their editors will be prosecuted, liable to imprisonment for seven years, if they don't modify their content to be in line with the Anti-Pornography Bill," he said.

Last week, Parliament passed the Anti-Pornography Act with the objective of restoring public decency. Under section 13, the act states: "A person who produces or participates in the production of, or traffics in, or publishes or broadcasts or procures or imports or exports or in any way abets pornography contrary to subsection (1) commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding five hundred currency points (Shs 10m) or imprisonment not exceeding seven years or both," reads clause 13(2) of the bill.

The bill, which repeals Section 166 of the Penal Code Act, defines pornography as any form of behaviour or form of "communication or speech or information or literature or publication in whole or publication in part or news story or entertainment or stage play or broadcast or music or dance or art or graphic or picture or photography or video recording or leisure activity or show or exhibition that depicts a person engaged in explicit sexual activities or conduct, sexual parts of a person such as breast, thighs, buttocks or genitalia, erotic behaviour intended to cause sexual excitement or any indecent act or behaviour tending to corrupt morals.

Who are the targets?

Pinpointing the real targets of the law, Lokodo says that the law intends to catch any person who does any act of pornography or media that disseminates acts of pornography as defined by the bill. "The real targets are persons, brothels, discotheques who are engaged in explicit sexual activities or conduct and persons who exhibit their sexual parts such as breast, thighs, buttocks or genitalia, erotic behaviour with the intention to cause sexual excitement or any indecent act or behaviour tending to corrupt morals," he said.

Lokodo said the main ingredient of the offence would be intention. "We are not oblivious of people who do such acts but not with the purpose of committing the offence as established under the act. That is why exceptions are made for any pornographic material used by teaching aides and other medical or scientific apparatus approved by the minister responsible for Education or Health, for appropriate educational purposes or any act or behaviour between spouses or couples performed in fulfillment of their conjugal rights and responsibilities, where such matters remain strictly private," he said, referring to the exception created by Lokodo adds that beach scenes and recreational scenes that would otherwise have been deemed pornographic acts are exempted.

"For beach wear at the beach and sports activities are prohibited although publication or dissemination of information from such scenes with the intention to cause sexual excitement or any indecent act or behaviour tending to corrupt morals will be punished," he said.

An internet service provider who fails to control pornography and thereby permits it to be uploaded or downloaded commits an offence for which they are liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding five hundred currency points (Shs 10m) or imprisonment not exceeding five years or both.

The act also establishes child pornography by providing that whoever is proven guilty of committing such an offence would be liable to a fine not exceeding seven hundred and fifty currency points (Shs 15m) or imprisonment not exceeding 15 years or both.

According to Lokodo, the local ssenga TV/radio programmes and entertainment halls or theatres that disseminate pornographic material are prohibited under the bill and anyone contravening this law would be liable to the offences as provided under the proposed law.

Human rights concerns:

Reacting to the passage of the proposed law and its implementation, Kabumba Busingye, a lecturer of Constitutional Law at Makerere University, says the offences created by the law are against constitutional rights: "Much as the bill attempts to restore public morals, it violates freedom of expression and media. And the violation of these freedoms can only be premised on public interest which has to be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society."

Other critics say the bill raises the centuries-old question on the benchmark of public morals and the fact that morality is inherently relative. They say the bill objectifies women and represents regression on the women's equality that the NRM government has fought hard to achieve.

"In as far as it targets women and not men, women fear that the bill will increase violence against them, including sexual violence, by men who perceive them as violating the law," says Patience. Akumu, a journalist and budding human rights activist.

Who will monitor?

To monitor and bring to book individuals that can be prosecuted and held liable for pornography related offences, Lokodo says his ministry working with other agencies like police will be responsible. The minister said the ministry also plans to have anti-pornography village and district committees.

"In our implementation strategy, we plan to recruit committees that will monitor and help us bring to book the culprits," he said.

The media will be monitored through an anti-pornography committee that is required to ensure that all media content meets the acceptable standard of public decency. Those powers are also vested in a court of law or a police officer not below the rank of superintendent of police, who may write to a newspaper, broadcaster or proprietor of any business dealing in computer, telecommunications firm, photographer, leisure, vendor or other dealer to desist from dealing in pornography.

And it is provided under the proposed law that; "A person who fails to comply with the directive commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding two hundred and fifty currency points (Shs 5m) or imprisonment not exceeding five years or both," reads clause 16 of the bill.

The anti- pornographic committee is expected to have a chairperson and six members drawn from the legal, media, cultural, religious, health, education, publishing, arts and entertainment backgrounds. All these are appointed by the minister.

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