KAMPALA — Amnesty International has slammed Ugandan authorities over a plot to register online sites and bloggers — describing the development as a latest blow to the right to freedom of expression ahead of 2021 elections.
“The requirement for people to seek authorisation before posting information online is retrogressive and a blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression and access to information,” Amnesty International said in a release on Wednesday.
With restrictions on public gatherings already in place, Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa has castigated Ugandan authorities for shutting off a vital channel for people to express their political opinions and share critical information about COVID-19.
Muchena said Freedom of expression does not need a license.
Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) on 7 September issued a public notice stating that anyone wishing to publish information online must be licensed ahead of a 5 October deadline.
UCC in their directive cited Section 27 of the 2013 Uganda Communications Act, among others, which prohibits broadcasting content without a broadcasting licence.
Muchene says, by applying this law to those sharing content on the internet and on social media platforms, the authorities are effectively criminalizing the right to freedom of expression online.
He noted that the regulations cited are overly broad and ambiguous, and do not differentiate between media broadcasting and communications between friends.
“This means it is impossible for an individual to know what exactly is being regulated.”
“These vague regulations will turn social media into minefield, with users likely to find themselves on the wrong side of the law and may face prosecution simply for expressing their views. The Ugandan authorities must do away with these requirements and amend laws that are promoting online censorship. They should respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, association, and access to information,” added Deprose Muchena.
The 2016 Ugandan general elections took place amidst a government-ordered social media shutdown that European Union election observers said “unreasonably constrained freedom of expression and access to information”.
Just before those elections, the UCC had directed Uganda’s main communications providers to block access to social media platforms for “national security” reasons, which had not been defined.
The UCC this week blocked local publication site, The New Times Uganda without any explanation.
On 1 July 2018, the Ugandan authorities introduced a tax on social media use in Uganda to raise revenue from what they described as “gossip” on social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Viber.
According to Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the social media tax reduced social media users from 47% to 38%. The Uganda Revenue Authority admitted in January 2020 that the tax had dismally failed to raise the revenue anticipated.