Kampala, September 15th, 2017; Unwanted Witness Uganda is concerned about an orchestrated move by the telecommunications regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to interfere with citizens’ freedom of expression online whenever the country is involved in a democratic exercise and debates. This interference gravelly affects the manner in which ordinary citizens share, receive and access information online, which would be vital in making, informed decisions and also participating in the governance processes.
On Thursday 14th September 2017, UCC issued a letter threatening punitive action to all social media users in the country who according to UCC author, post, receive and share any illegal content. This is the first official warning from the regulator to Internet users after the dual Internet blockage last year as citizens went to the polls and during presidential inauguration. The warning also comes at a time when majority citizens are engaged in an online constitutional amendment debate of article 102(b) concerning the presidential age limit.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental right and an enabler of other human rights as enshrined in the 1995 Uganda Constitution, regional and international legal frameworks to which Uganda is party. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of human Rights states that, everyone has the right to receive, seek and impart information or ideas regardless of the medium used. This is emphasized by 29 of the Uganda constitution states that, every person shall have the right to freedom of speech which shall include freedom of the press and other media.
“The regulator’s timing for the warning and the spirit is all suspicious given its track record of curtailing dissent critical democratic processes in this country,” says Dorothy Mukasa, the Unwanted Witness acting Chief Executive Officer.
She added that the letter is intended to kill the role of Internet by causing fear among Internet users and shun from freely sharing their opinions as well as holding public officials accountable.
Currently the Internet is considered as the only existing independent dashboard of ideas after spaces like public gatherings have been criminalized by the Public Order Management Order (POMA) and traditional media platforms highly censored by UCC. The same institution has on several occasions revoked operation licenses of radio and television stations while some journalists deemed critical have been forced off the airwaves.
Unwanted Witness recommends that;
(i) UCC should observe and respect citizens’ constitutional fundamental rights.
(ii) UCC should act Independently and avoid being partisan.