Ugandans and the New Online Laws
The new regulations that demands social media influencers and bloggers to register their platforms for state monitoring has created fears and outrage that the government is trying to silence critical voices ahead of the elections in 2021. Earlier this year, the Uganda’s Communication Commission directed all online data communication service providers with online publisher inclusive, owners of online news platforms, operators of online sites for radio and television channels to obtain required authorization from the Central regulatory body before they can be allowed to operate. According to UCC’s Spokesperson, Ibrahim Bbosa, this new law charges users an annual license fee of $20 and is basically designed to clamp down on immoral content and is targeted at online personalities with large followings on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram which may include journalists, socialites, politicians, bloggers, activities and musicians. There are fears that the law is being used to censor critics of the government.
The regulation became effective after a prominent academia Stella Nyanzi was put to jail for 18 months following criticism of Ugandan President, Yoweri Museveni in a graphic Facebook post about his 33-year rule. Stella branded the head of state as a pair of buttock with his wife as empty-brained. This act got her convicted and sentenced for cyber harassment and was acquired for offensive communication. According to a digital communication watchdog, at least 33 Ugandans have been arrested, charged and prosecuted between 2016 and 2018 under the country’s previous cyber laws. Also reacting to the issue, Grace Natabaalo, Communication Specialist at the African Centre for Media Excellence said that the law posed a threat to free expression. It is clearly an attempt by the government to restrict free expression aimed at questioning Museveni’s power.
An online producer and radio presenter, Faith Muluni is suspicious of the law and said that the law is intended to create fear in the population and that President Yoweri Museveni knows that he has nothing left to offer except instilling fear and intimidation. If this is not the truth, why the sudden interest of the government in regulating online activities on people’s personal pages. I am able to settle the license but that means that I need to watch whatever I write or sat as there is also a computer Misuse Act that has been used to persecute anybody who do not seem to agree with the current government.
Cyber harassment is punishable by a fine of $660 and up to five years jail term. The government critics view these rules as the authoritarian move of the government to stifled freedom of expression and suppress online contents criticizing the government especially by the youth ahead of the 2021 general elections. In the 2006, 2011 and 2016 elections, the government blocked or shut down social media and websites, ahead of and even during the polling period. This development is also closely associated with the rise in a youthful opposition led by Kyadondo East legislator, Robert Kyagulanyi. Mr Kyagulanyi, a pop star turned politician, commonly known by his stage name, Bobi Wine has emerged as the strongest opponent to Museveni in the 2021 polls. The function of UCC is to regulate services. Media influencers, bloggers and online newspapers are not communication services and the UCC needs to be sued by those interested.
In February, the Uganda Law Society, an umbrella association of lawyers, petitioned the Constitutional Court seeking the declaration of two sections of cyber harassment and offensive communication of Computer Misuse Act of 2011, another punitive law – as “null and void”.
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