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Authorities take excessive and unwarranted measures to restriction access to information online

On 7 September 2020, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) issued a public notice reminding online communication and broadcasters including bloggers, online television, radio and newspaper of their obligations to seek authorization from the UCC before providing such services to the public by 5 October 2020.

Several organisations pushed back on this initiative articulating that the requirement was draconian, impracticable and unconstitutional as it seeks to control those who shares information online. The requirement will drastically undermine the right to freely share information online especially on public policy and restrict the voices of those critical government malfeasance. The notification requires the Commission’s authorization before a social media account user can upload audiovisual, or similar content.

Members of general public, media houses, academics, activists and other nonstate entities have resoundingly condemned the Notice, contending that it will deter many aspiring opposition political candidates from using online media space to share information with their constituents. The requirement will further unwarrantedly deny access to information in advance of forthcoming elections.

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This notice corresponds to the following five regulations the Ministry of Information and Communications and the Uganda Communications Commission gazetted in 2019: 1) The Stage Play and Public Entertainment Rules 2019; 2) The Uganda Communications (Film Documentaries and Commercial Still Photography) regulations; 3) The Communications (Content) Regulations; 4) The Communications Commission (Consumer Protection) Regulations and; 5) the Uganda Commissions Computer Emergency Response Regulations.

These provisions limit the enjoyment of the freedom of expression creating the requirement to obtain permits with discretionary and excessive powers, prohibitive provisions for certain content and broad investigative powers granted to the UCC. The UCC defended their decision, citing sections 2, 5 and 27 of the UCC Act and Regulations 5 of the Uganda Communications (Content) Regulations 2019,arguing that the provisions mandate UCC to license, regulate and set standards for the provision of all communication services in Uganda, including radio, communication and online broadcasting.

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