UCC Dragged to Court Over ‘Unlawful’ Social Media Shutdown in 2016 Elections, Date Set for Case Hearing

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The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has been dragged to court together with other government officials and telecommunications operators to answer for cases arising from the social media clampdown during the February 2016 Presidential elections, by a civil society organization – Unwanted Witness.

In what they referred to as a matter of National Security, UCC which is the telecommunications regulator ordered to the shutdown of all social media channels including Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter for a period of close to four days.

In addition to social media shutdown, all mobile financial services were suspended across the country.

The shutdown, aside from denying citizens right to access information on social media and chance to make mobile money transactions, cost some business entrepreneurs whose major base of operation is on the same platforms.

The move was widely criticized by politicians, Civil Society Organisations and the international community although the government insisted that it was done lawfully.

Unwanted Witness, a Uganda a civil society organization that seeks to create secure uncensored online platforms for activists would later file a suit challenging the acts of the regulator and the telecommunications operators over the same.

Through their lawyers of Rwakafuzi and company Advocates, Unwanted witness seeks that a permanent injunction be issued against UCC and ten other respondents  who include the Attorney General, the chief legal advisor to government and eight telecom companies operating in Uganda.

“The shutting down of Social media by the respondents during the presidential, parliamentary and local council elections in February 2016 violated rights of Ugandan citizens and residents to freedon of speech and expression which is guaranteed under article 29 (1) (a) of the constitution of Uganda,” reads part of the notice of motion received by the High Court of Uganda.

The organization further says that “the shutdown of mobile money transfer services in the February 2016 elections violated rights of Ugandan citizens and residents to work and to livelihood.” They also ask that costs of the cause be paid by the respondents.

According to the notice, the case hearing was supposed to commence on February 3rd 2017 but court stayed the consideration of the amicus curiae application by article 19 in which the organization seeks to become a party to the main application.

An Amicus Curiae is someone who is not a party to a case and is not solicited by a party, but who assists a court by offering information that bears on the case. The decision on whether to admit the information lies at the discretion of the court.

The case’s stay followed an extension request by UCC, to enable the regulator ample time to scrutinize affidavits that had been submitted to court late by some respondents.

The judge gave them until March 17 to finish with whatever they think is requisite in moving the matter before the court and set March 30th as the date to deliver her ruling on amicus curiae application by article 19.

PC Tech also understands that the same court set May 22nd 2017 as the date for the Application.