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Prosecutor v. Ssembuusi

Closed Contracts Expression

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Audio / Visual Broadcasting
  • Date of Decision
    October 3, 2014
  • Outcome
    Criminal Sanctions
  • Case Number
    N/A
  • Region & Country
    Uganda, Africa
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Criminal Law, Constitutional Law
  • Themes
    Defamation / Reputation
  • Tags
    Corruption, Public Officials, Criminal Defamation

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

In 2011, Ronald Ssembuusi, former correspondent for the Central Broadcasting Service in Uganda prepared a report, which suspected that Dan Kikoola, the former Chairman for Kalangala district, was involved in the theft of 40 solar panels donated by the African Development Bank to the district. Kikoola later brought a criminal defamation action against the journalist under Section 179 and 180(1) of Ugandan’s Penal Code. In 2014, Kalangala Magistrates Court found Ssembuusi guilty of criminal defamation and ordered him to pay approximately 374.50 dollars within one month after sentencing or to face one-year imprisonment.

In December 2014, Ssembuusi filed a petition to the East African Court of Justice, challenging the compatibility of Uganda’s criminal defamation law in accordance with the Treaty for Establishment of East African Community. The decision of the East African Court of Justice is currently pending.

Columbia Global Freedom of Expression could not identify official legal and government records on the case and information on the case was derived from secondary sources. Columbia Global Freedom of Expression notes that media outlets may not provide complete information about this case. Additional information regarding legal matters will be updated as an official source becomes available.


Facts

In 2011, Ronald Ssembuusi, a journalist and radio correspondent for the Central Broadcasting Service in Uganda investigated a report, which alleged that former Chairman of Kalangala district, Daniel Kikoola, was involved in the theft of 40 solar panels that were donated by the African Development Bank. [1] The report was later publicly aired on radio.

In 2012, Kikoola filed a criminal defamation action in Kalangala Magistrates Court against Ssembuusi, arguing that his broadcasted statements were false and defamatory. [2] Ssembuusi was charged for criminal defamation under Section 179 and 180(1) of the Penal Code of Uganda. [3] In his defense, he asserted that he was exercising his right to freedom of expression as a journalist. [3]

[1] International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Journalist Convicted of Criminal Defamation for Reporting on Alleged Theft of Solar Panels, (Oct 07, 2014), https://www.ifex.org/uganda/2014/10/07/solar_panels/.

[2] Reporters Without Borders, Court Finds Provincial Radio Reporter Guilty of Criminal Defamation, (Oct. 16, 2014), http://en.rsf.org/uganda-court-finds-provincial-radio-16-10-2014,47120.html.

[3] The Guardian, Ugandan Radio Journalist Convicted of Criminal Libel, (Oct. 8, 2014), http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2014/oct/08/press-freedom-uganda.


Decision Overview

Magistrate Judge Kenneth Gimugu of the Kalangala delivered the decision of the court. [1]

The court ruled that a statement implying that a person is suspected of committing a criminal offence “is definitely false and defamatory.” [2] While the defendant challenged the credibility of the opposing party’s witnesses and inconsistencies within their testimonies, the deciding evidence for the court was “that the information was published about the complainant by the accused and the witnesses listened to the news.” [3] It held that “[o]ther inconsistencies that [defendant’s] counsel pointed on all the witnesses did not in any way affect this substantive evidence given.” [4]

As to the defendant’s argument with respect to the importance of his journalist freedom, the court held that the case “was not about the constitutionality of the offence and the constitutional court decided that [S]ection 179 of the Penal Code Act is a safeguard against the infringement of a person’s reputation.” [5]  

Accordingly, the court found Ssembuusi guilty of criminal defamation. [6] On October 17, 2014, the court ordered him to pay approximately $374.50 dollars in fine within one month after sentencing or to face one-year in prison. [7]

In December 2014, Ssembuusi filed a petition to the East African Court of Justice, challenging the compatibility of Uganda’s criminal defamation law in accordance with the Treaty for Establishment of East African Community. [8] He later died in January 2015. [9] However, his lawyers formally substituted his brother as the complainant of the petition for purposes of continuing with the case. [10]  The decision of the East African Court of Justice is currently pending.

[1] International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Journalist Convicted of Criminal Defamation for Reporting on Alleged Theft of Solar Panels, (Oct 07, 2014), https://www.ifex.org/uganda/2014/10/07/solar_panels/.

[2] International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Journalist Convicted of Criminal Defamation for Reporting on Alleged Theft of Solar Panels, (Oct 07, 2014), https://www.ifex.org/uganda/2014/10/07/solar_panels/.

[3] International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Journalist Convicted of Criminal Defamation for Reporting on Alleged Theft of Solar Panels, (Oct 07, 2014), https://www.ifex.org/uganda/2014/10/07/solar_panels/.

[4] International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Journalist Convicted of Criminal Defamation for Reporting on Alleged Theft of Solar Panels, (Oct 07, 2014), https://www.ifex.org/uganda/2014/10/07/solar_panels/.

[5] International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Journalist Convicted of Criminal Defamation for Reporting on Alleged Theft of Solar Panels, (Oct 07, 2014), https://www.ifex.org/uganda/2014/10/07/solar_panels/.

[6] The Guardian, Ugandan radio journalist convicted of criminal libel, (October 8, 2014), http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2014/oct/08/press-freedom-uganda

[7] International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Radio Journalist’s Sentence Galvanizes Call to End Criminal Defamation in Uganda, (Oct. 20, 2014), http://www.ifex.org/uganda/2014/10/20/ssembuusi_sentenced/.

[8] Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, East African Court of Justice Starts Hearing a Criminal Defamation Case of a Journalist, (Aug. 02, 2015), https://hrnjuganda.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/the-east-african-court-of-justice-starts-hearing-a-criminal-defamation-case-of-a-journalist/.

[9] Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, The East African Court of Justice Starts Hearing a Criminal Defamation Case of a Journalist, (Aug. 02, 2015), https://hrnjuganda.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/the-east-african-court-of-justice-starts-hearing-a-criminal-defamation-case-of-a-journalist/.

[10] The Sunrise, East African Court Hearing Defamation Case, (Aug. 11, 2015), http://www.sunrise.ug/news/201508/east-african-court-begins-hearing-defamation-case.html.

 


Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Contracts Expression

The decision contracts expression as it imposed criminal sanctions upon the defendant, Ronald Ssembussi (now deceased). It also produces a chilling effect on the right to freedom of expression in Uganda. Several organizations have warned that the decision will likely frighten other journalists from reporting corruption and accountability issues in Uganda.

Global Perspective

Quick Info

Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

National standards, law or jurisprudence

  • Uganda, Penal Code, sec. 179
  • Uganda, Penal Code, sec. 180

Other national standards, law or jurisprudence

Case Significance

Quick Info

Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

The decision’s precedential effect is yet to be determined. As well, the defendant’s counsel filed a petition to the East African Court of Justice, challenging the compabatbility Uganda’s defamation law with the Treaty for Establishment of East African Community.


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