Court gives UCC seven days to defend self in case where it ordered online news sites to register

The Constitutional Court has ordered the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and the Attorney General to defend themselves in a matter in which they were taken to court for ordering all online news publications to register.

Unwanted Witness, a civil society organisation that advocates for safe and accessible online platforms for the realisation of human rights recently sued government over the orders of registration.

In summons issued by the court, UCC and the Attorney General have been given only seven days to file their defence in the matter.

“You are hereby required to file an answer to the petition within 7 days from the date of service of these summons. If you or any person authorised by law to appear on your behalf does not appear, then this matter will be heard in your absence and judgment given against you,” the Constitutional Court summons read in part.

In a March 6, 2018 public notice, UCC directed all online data and news service providers to register with it or in default, disciplinary measures would be taken against them.

“The purpose of this public notice therefore, is to inform all persons currently offering or desirous of offering online data communication services, that in exercise of its powers under Section 6 (e) of the Uganda Communications Act 2013, the Commission classified online data communication services as a communication services for which one requires an authorisation from the Commission. Online data communication service providers, including online publishers, online news platforms, online radio and telephone operators are therefore advised to apply and obtain authorisation from the Commission,” the notice stated.

However, the Unwanted Witness dragged UCC to court saying the directive requiring all online publishers to apply and obtain authorisation interferes with online freedom of expression and digital rights in contravention of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda.

“The directives and administrative forms requiring online data providers to furnish the real names and details of the proprietors illegally truncate and threaten privacy, pseudonymous and anonymous communication,” Unwanted Witness contends.

The civil society organisation says the directives by UCC amounts to unconstitutional licensing of individual journalists, citizen journalists, bloggers and any ordinary citizens who publish stories, videos, news and photos on their personal accounts on twitter, Facebook, whats app and twitter.

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