Kampala, September 10 (EFE). – Anyone wishing to publish information online in Uganda must obtain a license before October 5, the Ugandan state agency that regulates the media confirmed to Efe today, a controversial measure that took a few months ahead of presidential elections early 2021.
Speaking to Efe, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) spokesperson Ibrahim Bosa defended the decision today, claiming that the rule is neither new nor intended to “restrict the freedom of expression of Ugandans”.
“We will not persecute individuals who have private accounts on social networks. Our job is to regulate the media. The notification was given to those media that, thanks to technological progress, can now be broadcast over the Internet,” Bosa said.
The UCC advances this measure in a statement released on Monday that sparked a lot of concern on social networks.
In fact, Ugandan human rights activists, some parliamentarians, and journalists’ associations have demanded more specifics, as well as clarifications, about the real reasons for their request.
Amnesty International considered this measure a “blow to freedom of expression”.
For Amnesty International’s Director of South and East Africa, Deprose Muchina, the government of Uganda could use this type of “mysterious laws” to arrest people simply for posting content on social networks, and shut down a “vital channel so that people express their policy opinions”.
Uganda will hold its next elections in early 2021, but with public actions banned by all political parties to prevent the spread of COVID-19, presidential candidates must now campaign across media and social media.
The publication of Union Carbide Corporation’s statement coincided with an increased social media presence of Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, and his main opponent, parliamentarian and singer Bobby Wayne, both of whom use Twitter and Facebook to address younger voters.
“With the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual spaces have become the main battleground for elections,” Rosbel Kagomir, a prominent Ugandan journalist and blogger, told EFE.
“The rules announced by Union Carbide Corporation are a movement to take control of virtual spaces, populated by a generation mostly of young people speaking openly about the failures and excesses of the government,” Kagomir added.
This is not the first time that, according to human rights activists, the Ugandan authorities have designed laws that limit the freedom of expression of social network users.
Uganda has imposed a special tax of 200 shillings (five euro cents) per day since July 2018 for social media use, a move that has prevented many poor Ugandans from accessing these communication platforms. According to the government itself, 2.5 million people stopped using the internet in the three months since the tax was introduced.
“It seems that the Ugandan authorities are increasingly interested in restricting social media networks, a space in which they have not had much influence because until a few years ago few Ugandans used it,” said lawyer and activist Rashid Bunia of the Foundation for Human Rights. Initiative (FHRI).
According to official figures, at least 40 percent of Ugandans – 17 million people – are now active internet users. EFE