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Court petitioned over mobile money, social media blockade

By Andante Okanya

Added 21st February 2016 04:56 PM

UCC executive director Godfrey Mutabazi, explained that the shutdown was a precautionary security measure on instructions from the Electoral Commission

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Many Ugandans who depend on mobile money services have been left frustrated by the blockade. Photo by David Namunyala

Human rights watchdog Legal Brains Trust (LBT), has petitioned court over the decision by government and its auxiliary agencies to disable telecom mobile money services and social media platforms.

On Friday, LBT filed an application for judicial review at the civil division of the High Court in Kampala, through Centre for Legal Aid (CLA), contending that the move was illegal.

Government’s chief legal advisor and representative the Attorney General (AG) is listed as a joint co-respondent with the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and Bank of Uganda (BoU).

On Thursday, UCC executive director Godfrey Mutabazi, explained that the shutdown was a precautionary security measure on instructions from the Electoral Commission.

President Yoweri Museveni explained the security risk in social-media access during the election.

“There must be steps taken for security to stop so many creating trouble,” he said. “It’s temporary. It will go away. Because some people misuse those pathways. You know how they misuse them, telling lies. If you want a right, then use it properly,” Museveni said.

LBT is seeking a pronouncement that UCC’s action was illogical and an infringement on the rights of consumers.

“A declaration that the 1st respondent’s(UCC) directive to telecommunications and mobile money service providers to block access by the general public to mobile money services as well as social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook for an unspecified period starting on 18 February 2016 is unjustifiable and unlawful,” the application reads in part.

LBT also wants court to task UCC’s board and executive director and take corrective measures to restore public access to the said social media platforms and mobile money services. 

The watchdog wants court to pronounce that (BoU) failed in its statutory duty to assert and protect its independence by swiftly issuing corrective directives to restore public access to mobile money services. 

LBT wants court to issue an order of injunction restraining UCC from repeating the action. 

The watchdog wants the AG compelled to file an affidavit of the relevant minister specifying the corrective measures taken by Government to discipline the UCC board and executive director in order to curb impunity in the regulation of the telecommunications sector and the mobile money industry.

The application is supported by the affidavit of law student Marvin Saasi, who asserts that public confidence in the service providers was dampened by the decision to block the services.

“The directive was made without proper and adequate consultation among the relevant stakeholders and it is detrimental not only to public welfare but also public confidence in the telecommunications and financial sectors,” asserts Saasi.

Justice Stephen Musota is scheduled to hear the application on March 16.

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