Unwanted Witness Uganda has asked security agencies to desist from infringing on the internet rights of Ugandans under the guise of stopping hate speech.
In a statement posted on its website, Unwanted Witness Uganda expressed its displeasure towards the repetitive threats being issued by different security agencies targeting dissenting opinions on the internet following the arrest of Kyadondo East Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi and 33 other people in connection to the Arua municipality MP by-elections.
Dorothy Mukasa, the Chief Executive Officer Unwanted Witness, says such statements are meant to instill fear among internet users. “Such threats by security agencies are undemocratic, unconstitutional and violate internet freedoms. They are meant to instill fear among internet users who have in the past weeks used the platform for a common cause,” she said.
Mukasa says internet is a human right that all state parties should respect instead of trying to infringe on because they do not agree with what government is doing or saying.
The warning comes a few days following a press briefing in which Martin Okoth Ochola, the Inspector General of Police and the Chief of Defense Forces, General David Muhoozi made veiled threats against internet users for allegedly inciting violence and depicting the country in bad light. Police have since vowed to arrest and prosecute online users under the Computer Misuse Act 2011.
The threats stems from the “Free Bobi Wine” campaign launched by social media users to pressurize government to release the legislator. The MP was granted bail together with his co-accused on Monday after being charged with treason. According to Mukasa, instead of resorting to threats, security should create an environment of peace.
According to the CSO, infringing on one’s usage of internet contravenes Article 29 of the constitution that gives citizens a right to free speech and expression. As such, they are calling upon the constitutional court to deliver judgment on cases challenging repressive cyber laws.
“We want the constitutional court to come out and make rulings on the cases that we have filed in the past challenging rules some of these cyber laws. If the court makes its ruling, which we believe will be in our favour, security agencies will no longer be able to infringe on opposing views of Ugandans.
Unwanted Witness-Uganda full statement
Kampala; 28th August, 2018; Unwanted Witness-Uganda, is deeply concerned by the repetitive threats being issued by different security agencies targeting dissenting opinions on the Internet following the arrest and torture of Hon. Robert Kyagulyanyi Ssentamu and 33 opposition politicians ahead of a by-election in Arua district, North Western region of Uganda.
In a space of only two days, the state’s security machinery has turned guns to Internet users announcing a crack down on dissenting voices online under the guise of curbing hate messages.
On Saturday 25th August 2018, a joint press conference was conducted by security chiefs including Inspector general of police Martin Okoth Ochola, Chief of Defense Forces Gen. David Muhoozi, and the commissioner General of Prisons Dr. Johnson Byabashaija vowed to prosecute Online users using the computer Misuse Act 2011. The same threats were re-echoed in a statement issued by police on 26th August 2018.
“Such threats by security agencies are undemocratic, unconstitutional and violate internet freedoms as they are meant to instill fear among Internet users who have in the past weeks used the platform for a common cause,”said Dorothy Mukasa, Chief Executive Officer, the Unwanted Witness Uganda.
She noted that the state has persistently exhibited disrespect for Internet freedom in Uganda through application of repressive cyber laws to criminalize any dissenting opinion, a practice that violates National, regional and International human rights standards.
Article 29 (a) of the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda guarantees citizens’ right to freedom of speech and expression, including freedom of the press and other media. This is further reaffirmed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, stipulating that “everyone has a right to hold opinions without interference, and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
In the past two weeks Ugandans particularly the youths in Uganda, East Africa and other parts of the world were visibly active online under the #FreeBobiWine campaign, calling for the release of jailed and tortured political prisoners in Uganda, this has been the highly trending hashtag in the history of internet use in Uganda.
However Ugandan security agencies particularly the police are known in the past for creating different cyber units used for cracking down on freedom of speech online. In 2017 Unwanted Witness documented over 25 Ugandans who were either arrested, kidnapped or interrogated by police for their online expression. These included, journalists, academia, artists, activists and serving army officers among others.
Unwanted Witness therefore calls upon the constitutional court to expedite the process of determining the numerous constitutional petitions that challenging Uganda’s repressive cyber laws including section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act, 2011 as filed in 2017.
About the CSO
Unwanted Witness Uganda is a CSO that seeks to create secure uncensored online platforms for activists, netizens, bloggers, freelance journalists and writers to promote human rights through writing and informing, educating the citizenry who also utilize the platform for strengthening free expression and demand for accountability.