19 April 2017

Uganda: Activists Run to Court Over SIM Card Registration

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

As the clock ticks toward the April 20 deadline for registration and verification of all SIM cards, activists have run to court to halt the exercise.

Rights Trumpets Limited, a non-profit organization, and the leader of the Jobless Brotherhood, Norman Tumuhimbise, want the High Court to issue a temporary injunction.

The two are urging court to stop the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and telecommunications service providers from enforcing the update of all SIM cards using national identity card until the main petition is heard and disposed of.

"The applicants have sued the respondent, seeking a permanent injunction among other remedies; without an injunction, the mother suit may be nugatory and the anticipated damage is irreparable," reads part of the application for the interim order.

In an affidavit in support of the main application, Tumuhimbise argues that it is also discriminatory for UCC to require nationals to validate their SIM cards using only national IDs while at the same time allowing foreigners to use their passports.

"The subscribers of telecommunication services have a legitimate as well as a legal expectation that their passports are to be used for all official purposes of indentifying them including for the purposes of the respondent's concerns and activities," Tumuhimbise's affidavit reads.

"The respondent has a duty to respect, uphold, promote, fulfill and respect the fundamental and other human rights and freedom of persons or subscribers," he says in the affidavit.

The affidavit adds that UCC's directive does not take into account the rights and interests of Ugandans who are currently outside the country. It says the cost and a one-week ultimatum is too short to allow them (Ugandans in the diaspora) to travel back to have their subscriber details updated.

After the cold-blooded murder of AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi last month, UCC and telecommunication companies came under attack for allowing unregistered SIM cards to continue being used.

It emerged that Kaweesi had received threatening messages from unregistered numbers, which police says has hindered security from identifying the sender. In a directive issued with the blessing of police, UCC ordered all telecommunication companies to verify all SIM card subscriber details within seven days starting April 12 using their national identification cards.

"All SIM cards whose details are not updated and verified by Thursday, April 20 shall be deactivated," UCC's directive reads in part.

However, the plaintiffs want court to declare UCC's directive as "unreasonable" because it requires existing subscribers to use only national identity cards to update their information or have them deactivated.

"A declaration that the respondent's [UCC] directive of seven days to all existing subscribers to update their Sim-card registration information is unreasonable, irrational, against legitimate expectations of the subscribers and contrary to some of the respondent's objectives and mandate..," the suits reads.

Having filed the suit on Tuesday morning, Eron Kiiza, the plaintiffs' lawyer, had an interface with Justice Stephen Musota, the head of the Civil division of the High court. Kiiza, purposely wanted Justice Musota to quickly fix the interim application for hearing before UCC implements its threats.

After the meeting, Kiiza told The Observer that Justice Musota hadn't given a hearing date. The judge instead referred them to Alex Ajiji, the deputy registrar of the High court Civil division.

Kiiza complained that if it's not heard today (Wednesday), it's likely to be overtaken by events.

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