Government and ISPs dragged to court over Internet shut down

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By the Witness radio team

Unwanted Witness-Uganda, a digital rights non-government organization,
has sued the Government through the attorney General and the Internet
Service Providers (ISPs) over the blocking and shutting down of social
media in February and May 2016.

Government through the telecom regulator the Uganda Communications
Commission (UCC) directed all the operating telecom companies to block
all social media platforms and mobile money services during the February
general elections and the presidential inaugural ceremony of May.

Through its lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, the Unwanted Witness-Uganda
however, contends the shutdowns were not only illegal but also a
violation of the right to freedom of speech thus filing an application
in the high court seeking for numerous orders.

The respondents in this matter are ten including; the attorney General,
Uganda Communications Commission, MTN (U), Airtel (U), Smile
Communications (U), Vodafone (U), Africell (U), Smart Telecom (U),
Uganda Telecom (U) and K2 telecom (U).

“The shutting down of social media by respondents during the
presidential, parliamentary and local council elections in February 2016
violated the rights of Ugandan citizens and residents to the freedom of
speech and expression which is guaranteed under article 29 (1) (a) of
the constitution of Uganda; article 9 of the African Charter on Human
and People’s rights; article 19(2) of the International Covenant on
civil and political rights; and article 19 of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights,” the Unwanted Witness’ applications states in part.

The application whose grounds were based on an affidavit swore by
Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, the Chief Executive Officer, Unwanted
Witness also says that the blocking and shutting down by the 2nd, 3rd,
7th and 9th respondents of “mobile money transfer services” during the
general elections “violated the rights of Ugandan citizens under article
20 (2), 40 (2), 45 of the constitution; article 14 of the African
Charter on Human and people’s rights; articles 6,11 of the International
Covenant on economic, Social and Cultural rights and articles 23, 25 of
the Universal declaration of Human rights.”

The applicant avers that the shutting down of social media by the
respondents violated the right of citizens to the “freedom of speech and
expression” which is guaranteed under article 29 (1) (a) of the
constitution of Uganda, article 19 (2) of the international covenant on
civil and political rights and article 19 of the universal declaration
of human rights”

The applicant therefore seeks two court orders; “a permanent injunction
to be issued against the respondents and costs of the cause to be paid
by the respondents.”

The Court will sit on February 3 2017 to allow the applicant’s counsel
time to elaborate on the said issues in contention.