The uneasy relationship that many governments have with online discourse continues; a new law in Uganda has imposed restrictions on the use of the internet that some people feel could silence legitimate criticism.
The bill, passed by the country’s legislature in September, was brought by a lawmaker who suggested that some users were hiding behind the right to privacy in order to share what he called “unsolicited, false, malicious, hateful and unwarranted information” online or on social media.
According to the AP news service, under the new law, signed last week by President Yoweri Museveni, jail terms of up to 10 years can be imposed, including for offenses related to the transmission of information about a person without their consent as well as the sharing or intercepting of information without authorization.
A Ugandan law on the misuse of computers was passed in 2011. This new law adds to its penalties, stifling freedom of expression, according to some commentators. Social media is one of the few outlets for dissent in a country where street protests are restricted.
The new law has already attracted criticism from a number of quarters, including Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa, has been quoted as saying: “This piece of legislation threatens the right to freedom of expression online, including the right to receive and impart information.”
President Museveni has not shown himself to be too enamoured of social media in the past. As we reported at the time, in June 2018 the government of Uganda imposed a (short-lived) tax on using OTT messaging apps, including Skype, Viber and WhatsApp.
When this happened (as Russell Southwood reminded us in a recent interview), President Museveni was quoted as saying: “Social media chatting is a luxury by those who are enjoying themselves or those who are malicious.”
As we mentioned in our recent story on the even more draconian practices now prevalent in Myanmar, Museveni also imposed an internet blackout ahead of voting in the 2021 elections.