18 April 2017

Uganda: Hope for Ugandans As Deadline to Register SIM Cards Is Quashed

Photo: The East African
A mobile phone subscriber surfs the Internet.

Mobile telephone subscribers in Uganda who have not registered their Sim cards now have more time to do so after the High Court granted a restraining order against the exercise which was due to end on Thursday.

Sector regulator the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) had issued a seven-day ultimatum to all subscribers to register or verify the registration of Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) cards or be switched off.

"An interim order restrains the respondent and the telecommunication service providers from enforcing or implementing the directive of Sim card subscriber details update/verification by Thursday April 20 or recognising the National Identity card as the sole document of identity--until the final determination of the main application for a temporary injunction," the court order to the UCC and telecom companies reads.

The court will on Wednesday April 19 hear the case in which Norman Tumuhimbise, an activist working for Rights Trumpet Ltd, a non-governmental organisation is seeking to stop UCC from implementing the directive. The plaintiff also wants the court to review UCC's requirement that every citizen registers their Sim card using a national identity card and passports for foreigners. Refugees were also expected to obtain certification from the Prime Minister's office before their SIM cards are verified within the stipulated seven days, raising concerns among various groups. The Uganda Law Society for example has argued that it would make sense if the registration was extended so that it takes at least three months.

The premier body for lawyers is also challenging government's insistence on the use of the national identification card number as the only valid document for registration, yet the law recognises work permits, passports, driving license, student identity cards and voter's cards as valid identification documents. Ugandans have been presenting these documents since SIM card registration began in 2013. Data from UCC shows that there are about 16 million active SIM card holders in Uganda.

But the police force asked UCC to change the registration process following the death of Assistant Inspector General of Police Andrew Felix Kaweesi, the who was gunned down on March 17. Following the killing, President Yoweri Museveni, ordered a clean-up of the police force, arguing that it was full of criminals, which explained the rise in crime across the country including robberies and murders.

In response, the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura blamed the rising cases of crime on the fact that criminals do not use registered SIM cards, making it difficult for the institution to conduct investigations.

"Mobile phones are weapons for criminals which they use to co-ordinate crime. Verifying and deactivating SIM cards will help us to fight crime in the best way possible," said IGP Kayihura at a press conference during which the new measures were announced.

Meanwhile, information from the electoral commission shows that about 16.2 million Ugandans have registered for identity cards following the passing of the Registration of Persons Act in 2015. Parliament passed the law to provide for the mandatory registration of Ugandan citizens and to establish a National Identification Register. However, there are cases of citizens who registered but are yet to receive the document while many others failed to do so.

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