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Gov’t sued for shutting down internet, social media in Uganda

CONSTITUIONAL COURT: Government has been dragged to court for shutting down the internet before, during and after the 2021 presidential and parliamentary elections.

Few weeks ago, Government restored internet connection after a five days total shutdown that blocked communication and digital services among Ugandans during the elections.

However, social media remain blocked and users have since resorted to Virtual Private Networks so as to access the various platforms.

In a petition filed before the Constitutional Court, Alternative Digitalk Limited, a Ugandan company that describes itself as being passionate about digital rights, media freedom, social justice and human rights says that the abrupt shut down of the internet by government was in contravention of articles 29(1),38, 40,40(2),41 and 45 the Constitution.

“On January 10, 2021 I traveled to Bundibugyo district the Western region of Uganda and to my village which has no electricity.I relied on Startimes App to watch nationwide television stations like NBS,NTV to keep myself up to date with what was happening in the country. On January 13th internet service providers switched off internet services When the internet was shut down, I could not watch news on any digital based television on my phone,”says an affidavit by one Morgan Muhindo.

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In the affidavit, Muhindo says that on polling day, he took photos at his polling station at Kisonko Primary School to show in Nduguto sub-county, Bughendera county in Bundibugyo district to show that voting materials had delayed arriving, adding that he could not post them due to the internet shut down.

“Upon receiving the results of all candidates, I wanted to communicate my message of peace and call upon everyone to respect the results and use legal means to solve their grievances. I could not do so due to the internet shut down.’

“I stopped following the elections. I didn’t know who was declared the president of this country until friends in Kampala started calling to tell me Yoweri Kaguta Museveni had been declared the winner.”

The petitioner says that the internet shutdown restricted members of the public from access and monitoring of electoral results through their digital platforms as well as compromising freedom of online expression, economic rights and access to information among other rights violated.

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Declarations

The petitioners in the case where the Uganda Communications Commission and the Attorney General have been listed as respondents want court to declare that the internet and social media shutdown was in contravention of the provisions of the constitution.

“The petitioners want court to make declarations that the respondents’ blanket halting or shut down contravened articles 1, 8A, 38,29(1), 40(2),41 and 45 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995,” court documents indicate.

The petitioners also want court to make orders restraining government from any future repetition of the internet and social media shutdown and an order directing the respondents to pay costs for the petition.

The Attorney General has been directed to file a response to the petition in seven days from Friday, January,29.


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