Kampala, 29th /09/2020; Freedom of expression is a fundamental right, underpinning most of the other rights including freedom of thought, conscience and allows them to flourish. However, UCC’s directive seeking to authorize online publishers is a direct attack on free expression with clear intent to stifle legitimate criticism.
The directive was communicated through a public notice released on 7th September, 2020. It does not present new regulations, but is a reminder of a similar directive issued on 6th March, 2018. In the recent notice, UCC gave a deadline of 5th October 2020 for all online data communication and broadcast service providers to apply for authorisation or risk being blocked by internet service providers.
On 11th September, 2020 Unwanted Witness Uganda filed a petition to the Constitutional court requesting for a temporary and interim injunction following the 2019 petition to the same court requesting for a permanent injunction restraining the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to proceed with the directive.
The blanket decision and directives by UCC to publishers and others to apply and obtain authorization from them, interferes with freedom of expression and digital rights and is in contravention and inconsistent with Article 29 (1) and 41 of the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda.
With digital communications taking centre stage in the run-up to the 2021 general elections, this directive will disproportionately curtail the free 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 and fairly participate in the general elections.
Digital communications play a critical role in shaping the electoral process by bridging the gap between the political candidates and the public. The requirement for application, registration and authorisation threatens free speech and the rights to association and assembly. Such limitations will not only promote self-censorship but also undermine individual participation in the 2020 electoral processes.
Therefore, we urge the judiciary to expeditiously intervene and prevail over UCC’s impunitive tendencies of undermining the rule of law.
We particularly call upon the Deputy Chief Justice Richard Butera to institute the bench to handle the application for interim injunction.
We believe that freedom of expression is integral to vibrant civic space both online and offline.
About Unwanted Witness
The Unwanted Witness, Uganda is a civil society organization (CSO) that was established to respond to the gap in effective communication using various online expression platforms