On Tuesday, March 2016, several offices belonging to a group of lawyers representing former presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi were broken into by unknown assailants.
The lawyers affected included Fred Muwema (in Kololo) and Muhammed Mbabazi( along Buganda road) and this was the time when they were preparing to represent Mbabazi in a presidential petition challenging the 2016 poll results.
However, a few days later, popular facebook blogger, Tom Voltaire Okwalinga, known for spilling government secrets posted on his social media account accusing Muwema of being behind the break-ins.
“Betrayal in the city. Scandal lawyer is now guarded by Special Forces Command operatives who follow him everywhere and are dressed in civilian clothes and armed with revolvers. Muwema is a joke of a lawyer,” TVO posted in reference to the break-ins.
TVO, as he is commonly referred by his followers on Facebook claimed that the seasoned lawyer had bagged over shs900m from government to sell them evidence that was to be used by Mbabazi in the presidential petition.
Little did he know that Muwema would take him on up to the level of convincing a court in Ireland to order his identity revealed.
When the Ugandan lawyer notified the company (Facebook) that he was to sue them, they took it lightly thinking it was the usual threats from members of the public.
Facebook receives over 1000 threats of having them sued but the biggest number of them never materialise.
A few weeks later, Muwema wrote to the Irish High Court demanding Facebook to reveal TVO’s identity.
“The plaintiff’s claim is for an order directing the defendant (Facebook) to provide the plaintiff with any details which it holds relating to the identities and location of the person or persons who operate the Tom Voltaire Okwalinga Facebook page or the individual posters thereon,” Muwema wrote.
He said argued that the statements by TVO were defamatory demanding that if his identity is revealed, he would be able to sue him personally.
Facebook however failed to file a defence in the court.
Court orders Facebook reveal TVO
However, in the resultant judgment, Justice Donald Binchy of the High court in Ireland issued a Norwich Pharmacal.
A Norwich Pharmacal is a court order for the disclosure of documents or information that is available in the United Kingdom or Ireland.
“It appears, a person who has been defamed by an internet posting may be left without any remedy at all, unless the author is identified and amenable to the jurisdiction of the court,” the court said.
“For these reasons, I consider that the application for take down and prior restraint orders must be refused. I will however make a Norwich Pharmacal Order in the terms that I understand the parties have agreed.”
However in what looked like they had pressed a panic button, Facebook appealed against the court decision saying that TVO was a critic of President Museveni and that by revealing him, the Ugandan government would hurt him.
The largest social network company asked court to revise the order.
“The Ugandan government has previously arrested and detained at least one person, an information security expert by the name of Mr Robert Shaka, who was incorrectly presumed to be TVO,” said Jack Gilbert, Facebook’s lead counsel.
“I note that the content published on that page is also critical of the Ugandan government and similar in substance to that of the genuine TVO profile. I therefore suspect that, aside from any indirect threat which may arise due to that apparent association with the genuine TVO profile, the content of the fake TVO page may have also attracted the interest of the Ugandan government and the author of the fake TVO page may be at risk of arrest and subsequent persecution in his/ her own right.”
The company said by revealing TVO’s identity, his life would be in danger.
However, in a twist of events, the Irish court backtracked on its earlier decision and quashed an order it had issued asking Facebook to reveal TVO’s identity.
The court however asked the controversial blogger to pull down the defamatory content 14 days from his Facebook page but said Muwema was free to make a fresh application to have TVO’s identity revealed.