CPJ joins call for Uganda to maintain internet access during election

Posters of the two most popular candidates for Uganda's Presidential election, incumbent President Yoweri Museveni (yellow) and Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, the pop star-turned-opposition leader, are seen along a street in Kampala, Uganda, on January 6, 2021. - Uganda gears up for presidential elections which is scheduled to take place on January 14, 2021, as President Yoweri Museveni seeks another term to continue his 35-year rule.poster of Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni who is running for his 6th presidential term. (Photo by SUMY SADURNI / AFP)

CPJ joins call for Uganda to maintain internet access during election

The Committee to Protect Journalists today joined 54 other organizations in a letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni calling on him to ensure open and unrestricted internet access during and after the country’s presidential election, scheduled for January 14.

The letter notes that disruptions to internet access would undermine journalists’ ability to report on the election and would infringe on citizens’ right to “key information at a crucial moment in a democracy, damaging their capacity to make informed choices.” It also expresses concern about Ugandan authorities’ recent requests to Google to shut down YouTube channels affiliated with the country’s political opposition.

The letter is addressed to Museveni, and was also sent to high-ranking government officials and the heads of telecommunications companies operating in Uganda.

During and after Uganda’s last presidential election in 2016, authorities disrupted access to social media networks at least twice, during voting in February and ahead of Museveni’s inauguration in May, alleging vague threats to national security, as CPJ documented at the time.  Candidate posters are seen in Kampala, Uganda, on January 6, 2021. CPJ joined a letter to the country’s president today urging the government to maintain internet access through the election. (AFP/Sumy Sadurni)

In recent weeks, CPJ has documented a crackdown on the press by Ugandan authorities, including assaults on journalists and restrictive accreditation regulations.

#KeepItOn: Uganda must #KeepItOn during the upcoming general election
Re: Internet access will ensure increased participation and transparency in Uganda’s
presidential elections
Your Excellency Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Kaguta Museveni, President of the
United Republic of Uganda
CC: General Haji Abubaker Jeje Odongo, Minister of Internal Affairs;
Judith Nabakooba, Minister of Information ICT and Communications;
Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo, Ag. Executive Director Uganda Communications Commission
Sam Kahamba Kutesa, Minister of Foreign Affairs;
Hatwib Mugasa, Executive Director National Information Technology Authority — Uganda
Wim Vanhellepute, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) MTN Uganda;
Tom Gutjahr, Managing Director Bharti Airtel;
Ruth Sebatindira, Administrator Uganda Telecom Limited;
Ziad Daoud, Chief Executive Officer Africell Uganda;
Ahmad Farroukh, Group Chief Executive Officer Smile Communications; and
Abdellatif Bouziani, Chief Executive Officer Smart Telecom Limited
We, the undersigned organizations and members of the #KeepItOn coalition
1 — a global network that
unites over 220 organizations from 99 countries that work to end internet shutdowns globally — write
to urgently appeal to you, President Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Kaguta Museveni, to ensure that
mobile money and social media platforms, the internet, and all other communication channels
are open, secure, and accessible throughout the election period in the Republic of Uganda and
The internet and digital communications tools play a crucial role in enabling people’s participation in
the electoral process, and enhances their ability to access information and express themselves freely.
The enjoyment of these fundamental rights of people contributes significantly to promoting the
integrity and transparency of elections, which are important tenets of every democracy.
The #KeepItOn coalition is deeply concerned over the ongoing crackdown on the media and human
rights defenders, and opposition politicians, in Uganda in the lead-up to the presidential elections
scheduled for January 14, 2021. The recent request by the Uganda Communications Commission
(UCC) to Google to shut down opposition-affiliated YouTube channels
further underscores the threat
to the exercise of freedom of opinion and expression and access to information which are enshrined
in the Constitution of The Republic of Uganda Articles 20 (1), 27 (2), 29 (1), 41 and 43 (1).
These actions are alarmingly similar to those tarnishing the 2016 elections, when the government of
Uganda ordered telecommunications companies to block social media, cut voters off from vital
resources, and block mobile money transactions which millions of citizens rely on daily. Civil society
sued the Ugandan government and telecom companies involved in the 2016 shutdown.
Unfortunately, courts delayed and ultimately never allowed open hearings, missing an opportunity to
set a precedent and prevent further disruptions. We denounce the recently reported incidents of
human rights violations including the use of arbitrary arrests
3 and harassment
, and police-led
1The #KeepItOn coalition unites over 220 organizations around the world working to end internet shutdowns
through grassroots advocacy, policy-maker engagement, and legal intervention. See more at:
<https://www.accessnow.org/keepiton/ >
2Quartz Africa, ‘Uganda wants Google to shut anti-government YouTube channels ahead of its election’
< https://qz.com/africa/1946889/uganda-asks-google-shut-anti-govt-youtube-channels-ahead-election/>
3Journalists attacked, deported ahead of elections. Published December 11:

Journalists attacked, deported ahead of January elections in Uganda

4Police beat, detain journalists covering opposition candidates ahead of Uganda elections. Published on
January 07, 2021:
violence and brutality,
in order to quell protests and further intimidate journalists,
6 human rights
defenders, protesters, opposition politicians, and members of the electorate.
Internet shutdowns harm human rights, disrupt emergency services, and harm economies
Research has shown that internet shutdowns and violence go hand in hand.
7 & 8Shutting down the
internet during elections limits citizens’ participation in the electoral process. By disrupting the free
flow of information, shutdowns only serve to heighten existing tensions in the society and
negatively affect reporting capacity with regard to human rights violations. In addition, without
access to communication tools, journalists, media workers, and human rights defenders are unable
to monitor and report on the election process.
Internet shutdowns also affect people’s ability to
access key information at a crucial moment in a democracy, damaging their capacity to make
informed choices. The spread of misinformation may grow, as there are fewer reliable channels for
fact-checking during a shutdown. Although governments attempt to justify network disruptions for
various reasons, in reality, internet shutdowns cut off access to vital, timely, and life-saving
information, as well as to emergency services, plunging whole communities into fear and
The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector in Uganda has shown extreme
resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic and benefited economically due to the increased
dependence on digital communications across more sectors of the economy. Given this context,
deliberate disruption to digital communications platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and
WhatsApp as well as mobile money transactions could cost the state billions in losses per day of
disruption. Further, these economic impacts could persist far beyond the days on which the
5Washington Post, ‘37 dead in Uganda protests after arrest of presidential candidate Bobi Wine’
6 Reporters Without Borders, ‘Uganda: Crackdown on reporters threatens Ugandan election’s credibility’
7An internet shutdown is defined as an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications,
rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert
control over the flow of information. See more at:
8 Anita R. Gohdes, ‘Pulling the Plug: Network Disruptions and Violence in the Syrian Conflict’ (Journal of Peace
Research: 31 January 2014)
9Jonathan Rozen, ‘Journalists under duress: Internet shutdowns in Africa are stifling press freedom’ (Africa
Portal: 17 August 2017)
disruption occurs.
Internet shutdowns contravene international laws
Uganda has ratified regional and international frameworks such as the legally-binding International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights,
which provide for the protection and promotion of the rights of freedom of opinion and expression,
assembly, and access to information, both offline and online.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Resolution from 2016 recognizes the
“importance of the internet in advancing human and people’s rights in Africa, particularly the right to
freedom of information and expression.” The ACHPR/Res. 362 (LIX) 2016 also condemns the “emerging
practice of State Parties interrupting or limiting access to telecommunication services such as the
internet, social media, and messaging services.”
11 Research indicates that there is no evidence that
shutdowns are effective at achieving a legitimate aim; if anything, by trying to achieve their ends, the
government will often block their own channels of information.
12 Additionally, UN experts and
high-level officials — including the UN Secretary-General — formally affirm that, “blanket Internet
shutdowns and generic blocking and filtering of services are considered by United Nations human
rights mechanisms to be in violation of international human rights law.”
Telecom companies must respect human rights
Telecom companies and businesses have a responsibility under the UN Guiding Principles on Business
and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises to respect human rights,
prevent or mitigate potential harms, and provide remedy for harms they cause or contribute to.
the case of enterprises like Uganda Telecom Limited with state investment, “states should take
10CIPESA, ‘A Framework for Calculating the Economic Impact of Internet Disruptions in Sub-Saharan Africa’
11African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, (November 2016) ‘362: Resolution on the Right to Freedom
of Information and Expression on the Internet in Africa – ACHPR/Res. 362(LIX) 2016’
12Anita R. Ghodes, ‘Repression Technology: Internet Accessibility and State Violence’ (American Journal of
Political Science)
13UN Secretary-General’s ‘Digital Cooperation Roadmap, (May 2020)’ <https://undocs.org/A/74/821> See also
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), ‘Joint declaration by the United Nations (UN)
Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media,
the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and the African
Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access
to Information, on Freedom of Expression and Responses to Conflict Situations’ (4 May 2015)
14OHCHR, ‘OECD Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights’
additional steps to protect against human rights abuses by business enterprises that are owned or
controlled by the State.”
Moreover, telecom service providers operating in Uganda have a responsibility to uphold and
respect human rights by ensuring that the people of Uganda have access to quality, open, and
secure internet and digital communication tools throughout the elections and beyond. Internet
shutdowns — whether in Uganda or other countries — must never be allowed to become the new
normal, and we encourage Uganda enterprises to integrate these practices for responding to
censorship and network disruption requests in all markets where you operate.
As organizations that believe in the power of the internet as an enabler of all other human rights, we
are confident that access to the internet, social media, mobile money platforms during the elections
in Uganda has the potential to foster transparency around the upcoming elections and ensure active
citizen and other stakeholder participation.
We respectfully request that you use the important positions of your good offices to:
● Ensure that the internet, including social media and other digital communication
platforms, remains open, accessible, and secure across Uganda throughout the
election and inauguration;
● Ensure that mobile money, banking, and other financial avenues for transactions
remain accessible and secure across Uganda throughout the election;
● Order internet service providers operating in Uganda to provide everyone with
high-quality, secure, and unrestricted internet access throughout the election
period and thereafter; and
● Order internet service providers operating in the country to inform internet users of any
potential disruptions and to take all reasonable steps to fix any identified disruptions likely
to impact the quality of service they receive.
Kindly let us know in what way we can assist in ensuring the same.
Access Now
Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)
15The OECD guidelines also advance that enterprises are encouraged to “support, as appropriate to their
circumstances, cooperative efforts in the appropriate fora to promote Internet Freedom through respect of
freedom of expression, assembly and association online.” See ‘OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises’
Africa Cybersecurity and Digital Rights Organization (ACDRO)
African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Africa Open Data and Internet Research Foundation (AODIRF)
Alliance for Affordable Internet — A4AI
Ask Your Government
Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS)
Bareedo Platform Somalia
Bloggers of Zambia
Centre for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP)
Centre for Multilateral Affairs (CfMA)
Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Freedom of Expression Hub
Front Line Defenders
Give1Project GAMBIA
Human Rights Network for Journalists — Uganda (HRNJ-U)
ICT For Democracy in East Africa (ICT4DemEA)
Innovation For Change (I4C) South Asia
Incarner l’Espoir
Internet Policy Observatory Pakistan
International Press Centre (IPC)
Internet Sans Frontières
Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet)
Liberia Information Technology Student Union (LITSU)
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Media Institute for Southern Africa — Zimbabwe Chapter (MISA Zimbabwe)
Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Observatory of Network Interference (OONI)
OpenNet AfricaOpen
Organization of the Justice Campaign
Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
PEN America
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
RNW Media
Sassoufit Collective
Securing Organizations through Automated Policybuilding (SOAP)
Software Freedom Law Center, India (SFLCin)
Small Media Foundation
The Tor Project
Unwanted Witness Uganda
World Wide Web Foundation
Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
Women ICT Advocacy Group (WIAG)
Zaina Foundation




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