Activists warn authorities against suppressing online space ahead of 2016 general elections.

By Solomon Lubambula

As the country gears up for 2016 general elections, concerns of upholding citizens’ freedom of expression before, during and after elections have started to emerge with online activists demanding for legal reforms to avert misuse and abuse of online expressions.

The Unwanted witness Uganda, an organization advocating for free, secure and accessible online platforms notes that after clamping down on offline platforms, government is now focusing on online control as evidenced by set of cyber laws that are not in harmony with the Ugandan constitution.

Jeff Wokulira Ssebagala, the Executive Officer, Unwanted Witness Uganda, says that as the country draws closer to the 2016 general elections, security agencies are likely to take advantage of such laws to infringe on peoples’ internet freedom.

A number of cyber laws such as the computer misuse Act, Interception of communications Act, anti pornography Act among others have been enacted but without set surveillance standards which critics say gives room for abuse by different actors.

“Because of the unpleasant online incidents with less regard to citizens rights to privacy and if unchecked we anticipate tougher times ahead of 2016 elections as online activists and users” Ssebagala noted with concern.

He justifies his argument, asserting that there will be a lot of political activities online this year, since online activities and traffic is steadily increasing especially among the youth, so the need for security agencies to prepare way in time to have control of such.

Godfrey Twesigye, a lawyer working with the Unwanted Witness says that the cyber laws are not necessarily guarantying safety and security yet they infringe on people’s rights and democratic principles.

 “Some of these laws do not meet the required standards across the world, they should be amended to address the massive bracket surveillance”-said.

Activists’ outcry follows the Memorandum of understanding between Police and UCC which has come a few months after the government requested for a supplementary budget for SHS 200 billion to enforce the Interception of Communications Act.

But according to Ssebagala, the country has no standards on surveillance, which exposes people’s rights to gross abuse by those that may be in charge of the mechanisms.

Unwanted Witness Uganda has thus, ignited its protracted demand for the amendment of the existing cyber laws in consultation with the stakeholders as well as expediting the enactment of the law on privacy and data protection before the 2016 general elections.

Meanwhile the activists lashed out at Internet service providers who have made it a habit cheat Internet users. The Unwanted witness is therefore urging the regulator, Uganda communication commission to crack a wipe on such errant service provider in order to promote ICT for development.