Uganda’s social media shutdown undermines human rights, fundamental freedoms, US says

The United States is concerned by reports that the government of Uganda has ordered internet service providers to block social media platforms, messaging apps, and select content in the run up to general election.

Assistant Secretary for the Department of State’s Bureau of African Affairs Tibor Nagy said such restrictions undermine human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In a letter seen by news agencies on Tuesday, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) Executive Director Irene Sewankambo ordered telecommunications companies to “immediately suspend any access and use” of social media and online messaging platforms.

On Wednesday, Telecom Company MTN Uganda confirmed it had received an order to suspend access to social media and online messaging apps.

Some of the affected platforms include WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Signal and Viber and Telegram.

The same happened during the 2016 General Election.

In a televised address late on Tuesday President Yoweri Museveni defended the social media shutdown as a response to Facebook’s closure of accounts of his ruling NRM party.

The move has drawn widespread condemnation, especially from civil society.

Access Now said locking access to social media is disproportionate, illegal, and will have far-reaching consequences beyond the election period.

“Shutting down or blocking the internet while reports of state violence and oppression are emerging is incredibly worrisome,” Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now said.

“Uganda disconnected voters during the 2016 elections, and the #KeepItOn coalition is imploring authorities to set a new standard in 2021 by ensuring reliable, accessible internet to all — during this critical time, and hereafter.”

Twitter condemned the shutdown on Wednesday.

“We strongly condemn internet shutdowns – they are hugely harmful, violate basic human rights and the principles of the open internet,” Twitter said.

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