Human Rights lawyers and Democracy activists under the Center for Constitutional Governance-CCG are protesting a move by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to regulate data communication service providers.
The communications commission last week issued a deadline for Online Data Communication and broadcasters to obtain authorization from the regulator before continuing to provide such services. The directive targets bloggers, Online televisions and radios, Online newspaper platforms, and digital Audio platforms, which include both Radio and Television, among others.
The directive is in line with new rules issued by the governments of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, in March 2018, requiring the licensing of social media and online content creators. The regulator states that the move is aimed at preventing hate speech, cyber-bullying, revenge porn, and curbing copyright infringement and the distribution of politically sensitive information.
But the Centre for Constitutional Governance says that the move is as suspicious.
Angella Asiimwe, a human rights lawyer who presented a statement on behalf of of the organisation noted that the UCC move contradicts the objective of the UCC act by seeking to keep Ugandans stuck in primitive forms of communication.
The activists are now asking the Ministry of ICT, Information and National guidance under which UCC operates, to suspend the directive to avoid crippling freedom of participation in the forthcoming elections, especially because they are supposed to be virtual; using the same platforms to reach the electorate.
Ivan Bwowe, a lawyer in charge of Public Interest Litigation at the Centre for Constitutional Governance said that the move is not shocking considering that, in the past, the UCC has tried to clamp down on media freedoms by closing down radio and television stations and ordered media houses to dismiss journalists who were critical to the government.
He said that they have already filed a case against the UCC directive.
Job Kiija, the Executive Director Innovations for Democratic engagement and action – IDEA observes that by virtue of the fact that the UCC has timed this period to take action on this matter, it’s competence and objectivity to enforce it is highly questionable. He adds that the UCC actions contradict with the Electoral Commission guidelines which require candidates to use media platforms for their campaigns.
Two years ago, the Tanzanian government published its Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, establishing mandatory licensing of bloggers, online forums and online radio and televisions. The regulations which imposed strict rules on online content applies to Tanzania residents, Tanzanian citizens outside the country and non-citizens of Tanzania residing in the country.
Similarly, in neighbouring Kenya, the Film Classification Board requires the licensing of people who post videos meant for public consumption, including videos posted on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms.
Other countries that have passed regulations for social media and online platforms include Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Zambia, among others.