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2016 social media shutdown case dismissed

By Michael Odeng

Added 16th August 2019 06:08 PM

Judge Andrew Bashaija dismissed the case noting that no witness appeared in court to prove that the social media shutdown affected him or her

2016 social media shutdown case dismissed

Judge Andrew Bashaija dismissed the case noting that no witness appeared in court to prove that the social media shutdown affected him or her

The High Court has dismissed a case in which a civil society organisation had sued the government over social media clampdown during February 2016 general elections.

Unwanted Witness sued the Attorney General and Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), contending that the shutdown denied citizens the right to access information on social media and chance to make mobile money transactions, costing some business entrepreneurs whose major base of operation is on the same platforms.

However, Judge Andrew Bashaija dismissed the case, noting that no witness appeared in court to prove that the social media shutdown affected him or her.

"It has not been demonstrated how the social media shutdown affected people who transact through mobile money," the judge ruled.

Bashaija observed that when social media was shut down, some people resorted to using virtual private network (VPN).

He also noted that it was only telecom provider MTN which blocked mobile money services but other telecommunication providers operated normally.

The judge said the applicant did not adduce evidence to support the case.

"In the absence of legal evidence, the application is rendered moot and is purely for academic purposes."

Bashaija ruled that the application was incompetent. However, he did not issue orders as to costs, saying it was a public interest litigation suit.

The judge said an affidavit in support of the application was defective and based on hearsay information. "Hearsay evidence is inadmissible in the general rule of this court."   

In what they referred to as a matter of national security, UCC the telecom regulator during the 2016 presidential elections, ordered the shutdown of all social media channels including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter for four days.

In addition to the social media shutdown, all mobile financial services were suspended across the country.

The move was widely criticised by politicians, civil society organisations and the international community although the government insisted that it was done lawfully.

This prompted Unwanted Witness to go to court seeking that a permanent injunction be issued against UCC and ten other respondents who include the Attorney General and eight telecom companies operating in Uganda.

"The shutting down of social media by the respondents during the presidential, parliamentary and local council elections in February 2016 violated rights of Ugandan citizens and residents to freedom of speech and expression which is guaranteed under Article 29 (1) (a) of the Constitution," reads part of the plaint.

Unwanted Witnesses also contended that the shutdown of mobile money transfer services violated the rights of Ugandan citizens and residents to work for their livelihood.

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