NGO accuses security organs of harassing online users

Unwanted Witness, a digital rights organisation has called for the fast tracking of the hearing of petitions before the Constitutional Court challenging some of Uganda’s cyber laws such as the Computer Misuse Act (2011)

In 2017, the NGO filed a petition in the Constitutional Court challenging the constitutionality of Section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act (2011) which provides that “Any person who willfully and repeatedly uses electronic communication to disturb or attempts to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication whether or not a conversation ensues commits a misdemeanor and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty-four currency points or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.”

Unwanted Witness fears that this particular provision is what security agencies want to use to curtail freedoms of Ugandan online users.

On August 25, security chiefs namely, Inspector General of Police Martin Okoth Ochola, Chief of Defense Forces Gen David Muhoozi, and the Commissioner General of Prisons Dr Johnson Byabashaija at a joint press briefing warned online users to mind what they post or risk being prosecuted under the Computer Misuse Act 2011

Dorothy Mukasa, acting Chief Executive Officer, the Unwanted Witness Uganda in a statement says the state is undermining internet freedom in the country through application of such repressive cyber laws that criminalise any dissenting opinion.

According to Unwanted witness, security agencies are suppressing online voices under the guise of curbing hate messages.

“Such threats by security agencies are undemocratic, unconstitutional and violate internet freedoms as they are meant to instil fear among Internet users who have in the past weeks used the platform for a common cause,” said Mukasa.

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.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, further states “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.”

Police and the army has however been seen in recent days cracking down on protesters demanding for the release of Kyadondo East Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine and others arrested during the Arua Municipality by-election saga.

Unwanted Witness says 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,” Mukasa stated.