24 February 2016

Uganda: UN, AU Petitioned Over Internet Shutdown in Uganda

Photo: Daily Monitor
As Ugandans go to the polls, the Uganda Communications Commission says they have blocked social media platforms over security concerns.

At least 20 organisations from all over Africa have written to the United Nations (UN) and the African Union (AU) condemning the recent shut down of some Internet and Mobile money services during the February 18th, 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections in Uganda.

"We are writing to urgently request your immediate action to condemn the internet shutdown in Uganda, and to prevent any systematic or targeted attacks on democracy and freedom of expression in other African nations during forthcoming elections in 2016," said the letter dated February 23, 2016.

It also said, "On February 18, Ugandan internet users detected an internet outage affecting Twitter, Facebook, and other communications platforms. According to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), blocking was carried out on orders of the Electoral Commission, for security reasons. The shutdown coincided with voting for the presidential election, and remained in place until the afternoon of Sunday, February 21."

In their call for action, the petitioners used the letter to request the UN and the AU to use their vital positions to:

call upon the Ugandan government to provide redress to victims of the internet shutdown, and pledge not to issue similar orders in the future;

call on African states to uphold their human rights obligations, and not to take disproportionate responses like issuing shutdown orders, especially during sensitive moments like elections;

investigate shutdowns, in their various forms, in order to produce public reports that examine this alarming trend and its impact on human rights, and make recommendations to governments and companies on how to prevent future disruptions;

encourage telecommunications and internet services providers to respect human rights and resist unlawful orders to violate user rights, including through public disclosures and transparency reports;

encourage the African Commission on People's and Human Rights, the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the UN General Assembly to resolve that Internet Shutdowns violate freedom of expression per se and without legal justification.

The letter that is widely circulated on the internet also said that during the shut down period, two presidential candidates were detained under house arrest.

The telco MTN Uganda confirmed the UCC directed it to block "Social Media and Mobile Money services due to a threat to Public Order and Safety." The blocking order also affected the telcos Airtel, Smile, Vodafone, and Africel.

President Museveni admitted to journalists on February 18 that he had ordered the block because "steps must be taken for security to stop so many (social media users from) getting in trouble; it is temporary because some people use those pathways for telling lies."

The organisation that have so far signed the letter include:

Access Now

African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)

Association for Progressive Communications (APC)

Article 19 East Africa

Chapter Four Uganda



Committee to Protect Journalists

DefendDefenders (The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project)

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)

Global Partners Digital

Hivos East Africa

ifreedom Uganda

Index on Censorship

Integrating Livelihoods thru Communication Information Technology (ILICIT Africa)

International Commission of Jurists Kenya

ISOC Uganda

KICTANet (Kenya ICT Action Network)

Media Rights Agenda

Paradigm Initiative Nigeria

The African Media Initiative (AMI)

Unwanted Witness

Web We Want Foundation

Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)

Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum

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