Google must disregard the Government of Uganda’s requests intended to silence legitimate dissent

Kampala, 18, Dec 2020, Over 20 National and International Human Rights Organisations have submitted a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai asking Google to disregard the government of Uganda’s intentions of further silencing dissent during democratic processes in the country.

The Organizations are concerned about the spirit, timing and intention of the Uganda government, and want Google to route the authority’s request through legal compliance processes and assess its validity under relevant human rights standards, with the view to protect the Ugandan people and their rights.

On the 9th December, 2020 government through Uganda Communications Commission wrote a letter to Google requesting the company to block 14 YouTube channels for allegedly misrepresenting information, views, facts, and events in a manner likely to mislead the public in Uganda.

We, the signed organizations find that the Ugandan government request for blocking access to YouTube channels goes contrary to a number of its human rights commitment and violates rights and freedoms of conscience, expression, association, and access to information guaranteed under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and peoples Rights and Articles 20 (1), 27 (2), 29 (1) and 43 (1) of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. 

“While we are aware that under international freedom of expression standards, blocking may be permitted by law, this measure should only be imposed by the courts or other independent and impartial adjudicatory bodies,” the letter reads.

So if Google does not contest this request, it will have participated in a direct attack on freedom of expression and democracy ahead of the Uganda’s 2021 general elections. 

Google Inc. has an obligation and a corporate responsibility to respect human rights as guided by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This responsibility to respect human rights is a global standard of expected conduct for all business enterprises wherever they operate. Google’s own Code of Conduct undertakes to respect and protect users’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression globally. 

It is worth noting that the government of Uganda has a human rights record of using restrictive laws to impose taxation on the use of social media, blocking social media access during elections, and arresting internet users.

We, therefore, urge Google to disregard the government of Uganda’s request for blocking the 14 channels.