Civil society, government  discuss  digital rights

Civil society organizations have accused government of continued efforts of deny its citizens the right to information.

Speaking during a digital rights workshop focusing on internet access, telecommunications, right to expression and access to information at K-Hotel in Entebbe on Monday, civil society organisations said government is doing everything in its means to ensure people are blocked from accessing information especially on internet.

“Government has now become sophisticated in blocking and filtering the freedom of expression through the internet,” said Daniel Mwesigwa from ICT Policy Centre for Eastern and Southern Africa(CIPESA).

The activists argued that the trend is not only in Uganda but in the entire East African region and the continent at large noting that in the year 2018 alone, there were over 20 shut downs all over the continent by governments.

In February and May 2016, there was shut down of all social media platforms including Facebook, Whats app and Twitter among other sites in Uganda during the general elections and the presidential swearing –in ceremony.

Last year, the Kenya, government shut down a number of TV stations for broadcasting live the unofficial swearing in ceremony of opposition leader Raila Odinga.

According to activists, it is wrong for governments to overrule their constitutions by violating their citizens’ right to access to information.

“There is a link between the internet and freedom of expression but if people cannot express themselves freely, then what is left for them to enjoy? Why would governments want to control the narrative,” wondered Ephraim Percy Kenyanito from Article 19, a UK based civil society organization.

Unwanted Witness’ Wokulira Ssebaggala said it is wrong for governments to believe that access to information by their citizens is at its mercy.

“These things of stifling rights will never end but we need to stand against them,”Ssebaggala said.

However, in response, former Minister for ICT, George William Nyombi Thembo defended government actions on denying people access to information as some times being done to protect the wider public.

“Some people think the internet is something to play around with yet some actions on internet can cause havoc,” Thembo, who is now the Director for the Rural Development Fund (RCDF) at the Uganda Communications Commission said.

He said as the regulator, UCC has the mandate to ensure citizens are protected, adding that by blocking the internet, they are averting some problems that would occur if internet is not checked.

The government representative said the Uganda Communications Commission Act empowers them to act in case of anything not going in the right direction.

A 2018 report released by the Unwanted Witness recently indicated that the Ugandan government has continued to crackdown on internet users through a number of laws formulated for the same purpose including the Excise Duty Amendment Act 2018.

“One of the most alarming digital rights violation was the passing of the Excise Duty Amendment Act 2018 which introduced charges on the use of social media in Uganda. The social media tax has with no doubt negatively impacted on low income Ugandans and their ability to access internet as a human right,” the report released last month highlighted.

The report also cited the Computer Misuse Act 2011 as having been enacted by government to crack down on internet users and mentioned a number of people including Dr.Stella Nyanzi, and several journalists taken to court under the same law.

The Uganda Law Society recently challenged the Computer Misuse Act 2011 before the Constitutional Court.

“The impugned sections are inconsistent with articles 29(1) (a) and article 43(2) (c) of the Constitution in so far as they restrict the freedom of speech and of expression and the restrictions in the impugned sections are not demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society,” read part of the petition filed early this month by the Uganda Law Society.

 

 

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