They said the requirement for the application, registration and authorisation threatens free speech and the right to association and assembly. (Photo by Alfred Ochwo )

By Alfred Ochwo

According to UCC, the regulations were brought in good faith to majorly curb misuse of the internet , especially the publication of falsehoods and blackmailing of public figures especially in the period where campaigns are majorly going to be based on digital platforms.

Unwanted Witness, a civil society organization established to respond to the gap in effective communication using various online communication and broadcasting service providers has asked the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) to look into freedom of expression as a fundamental right, underpinning most of the other rights including freedom of thought and conscience.

Speaking during a press conference held on Tuesday  in Kampala, Dorothy Mukasa, Chief Executive Officer of Unwanted Witness said the regulations by UCC command all persons currently offering or planning to commence the provision of online data communication and broadcasting services including bloggers, online televisions, online radios, online newspapers, audio over to obtain authorisation from them before providing such services to the public.

In a letter submitted on September 11, Unwanted Witness through Kiiza and Mugisha advocates penned down a constitutional petition to the constitutional court challenging the constitutionality of requiring social media and other digital platform users to apply for and obtain authorisation from UCC.

“This is to request that you cause the fixing of the captioned applications for hearing on the nearest date possible since the first respondent has set October 5, 2020 as a deadline for compliance with its impugned unconstitutional requirements,” the document reads.

Mukasa explained that UCC, has not yet received any court document ordering them to stop their regulations. It’s from this background that we urge the judiciary to expeditiously intervene and prevail over UCC’s punitive tendencies.

“UCC’s directives for the blanket decision to publishers to apply and obtain authorisation, interfere with the free flow of information and the right to seek or receive information which contravene and are inconsistent with Article29 (1) and 41 of the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda,” she said.

With the digital communication taking center stage in the run-up to the 2021 general elections, UCC directives will disproportionately curtail the flow of information and the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas via different online platforms and therefore is a threat to the public’s ability to freely participate in the general elections.

Mukasa added that digital communication plays a critical role in shaping the electoral process by bridging the gap between the political candidates and the public.

The requirement for the application, registration and authorisation threatens free speech and the right to association and assembly.

Such limitations will not only promote self-censorship but also undermine individual participation in the 2021 electoral processes.”

“We call upon Deputy Chief Justice Richard Butera to institute a bench to handle the application for an interim injunction, we believe that freedom of expression is integral to vibrant civic space both online and offline,” she said.

According to UCC, the regulations were brought in good faith to majorly  curb misuse of the internet , especially the publication of falsehoods and blackmailing of public figures especially in the period where campaigns are majorly going to be based on digital platforms.

Allan Ssempala Kigozi the head of the legal department at Unwanted Witness said they have laws which can help UCC to meet its goals without these vague regulations, such acts include the Computer misuse act, the Data Protection and Privacy act 2019, these two acts can be used to prevent blackmailing and other vices that UCC wants to fight.

“These regulations are meant to threaten the public from speaking their heart, they are aiming at intimidating the public and in any case, if the court does not institute an injunction order we shall go ahead opposing it,” he said.

Original Post: New Vision

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