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Sending SMS Threats Could Easily Land You In Prison

By Vision Reporter

Added 14th May 2003 03:00 AM

I am watching every step of yours. U better B careful coz U’ll stop a bullet if U don’t drop yo crazy idea,” read an SMS message sent to a Jame Mukasa’s mobile phone (not real name).

I am watching every step of yours. U better B careful coz U’ll stop a bullet if U don’t drop yo crazy idea,” read an SMS message sent to a Jame Mukasa’s mobile phone (not real name).

I am watching every step of yours. U better B careful coz U’ll stop a bullet if U don’t drop yo crazy idea,” read an SMS message sent to a Jame Mukasa’s mobile phone (not real name). The practice of sending text messages that contain threats is reaching alarming proportions in Uganda today.
Many people live in fear after receiving threatening, abusive and sometimes bizarre SMS messages. According to Mukasa, he started receiving messages telling him to drop ‘the idea,’ or die, from an MTN number, whose owner he does not know. Subsequent messages followed from MTN’s 199
E-mail to Mobile System. “The sender keeps on warning me to ‘drop the idea.’ “I do not even know which idea I should drop. Whoever it is, he has really made my life miserable,” says Mukasa.
The mesage Joseph Musoke of Jinja got read “Be careful, the child your wife is carrying may not be yours. It belongs to Tom.” Musoke’s wife’s boss is called Tom. The SMS was traced to a mobile phone that belonged to a telephone service vendor, who said a woman he did not know hired his phone to send an SMS. It was later discovered that the woman was “a family friend,” of Musoke and his wife, who wanted to break up their marriage.

The nature of these SMS may be divided into two groups; those of a criminal nature that threaten life and property and those that are abusive or cause discomfort.
The Police is registering a growing number of cases related to such SMS’. “We have been handling so many of them lately. They are becoming a criminal nuisance,” said Okoth Ochola, the Deputy Director of CID.
This is one of the criminal effects that has come with advancing communication technology. The question however, is whether our laws can currently deal with this nuisance.
According to Moses Tugume, the Resident State Attorney of Makindye, senders of SMS messages that threaten others can be charged with the criminal offence of threatening violence. This is spelt out in Section. 76(a) of the Penal Code Act which states: “Any person who, with intent to intimidate or annoy any person, threatens to injure, assault, shoot or kill any person, or to burn, break or injure any property is guilty of an offence.
Tugume contends that since the law does not specify the nature of the threat, it can accommodate threats by text messages. “As long as we can identify the author of the message, we can press charges against them,” he said. But Tugume agrees that most of the messages are sent using public pay phones, making it difficult to trace the culprits.
He, however, warns that the owners of the phones sending such messages, will be treated as the first suspects, regardless of whether or not their phones are public phones, “unless the owner discharges the burden to another person who used their phone, he or she is the first suspect.” These offences carry a four-year jail term.
Okoth Ochola, deputy director of the CID, also a lawyer, says that the senders of threatening SMS messages can also be charged with being a common nuisance under Section 156 of the Penal Code. The section prohibits any unlawful act that causes danger, annoyance or inconvenience to people. It carries a one - year jail term.
If criminal courts are not able to deal with this situation, victims can seek civil remedies. According to common law, there is a tort of threat, which prohibits people from unlawfully threatening others. There is also a tort of nervous shock, which prohibits people from issuing threats that can cause others to suffer nervous shock. The aggrieved party can be awarded damages for receiving such threats.

The challenge is to find the sender. Philip Besimire, MTN’s Public Relations Officer says the origin of such messages can be established technically, but because most senders use the E-mail to Mobile System, their tracks may end in an internet cafe. He says however, that MTN is carrying out consultations with other communication experts to find a solution to this menace.
The good news is that there is legal redress to the problem. All you do is to keep the message in your phone to help during the investigations, and probably as evidence to be used in a court of law. Ends

Sending SMS Threats Could Easily Land You In Prison

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