Tuesday,September 22,2020 10:01 AM

Museveni Twitter block case goes to East African Court

By Farooq Kasule

Added 18th July 2020 02:28 PM

Seguya, who is pursuing a Master in International Relations at Harvard University, is seeking justice.

Museveni Twitter block case goes to East African Court

Seguya, who is pursuing a Master in International Relations at Harvard University, is seeking justice.


KAMPALA - A Ugandan student in the US has taken the Twitter block case against President Yoweri Museveni to the Arusha-based East African Court of Justice in Tanzania.

Innocent Hilary Taylor Seguya, through his attorney Hassan Male Mabirizi, says he is dissatisfied with the decision of High Court judge Andrew Bashaija of May 20 this year.

The judge dismissed the student's case with costs.

Now, Seguya, who is pursuing a Master in International Relations at Harvard University, has lodged his suit at the East African Court of Justice sub-registry based in Kampala.

He lists nine grounds of appeal, which he wants the regional court to adjudicate.

They include delivery of the verdict beyond the 90 days required by the Uganda judicial review rules, sending him an unsigned copy of the judgment, failure to determine the competence of the defence and relying on the Human Right's Enforcement Act, which he claims was published in the Gazette after filing his case.

Seguya is arguing that it was unlawful for the judge to dismiss his case with costs because it allegedly infringes on the fundamental and operational principles of the East African Community Treaty, which include good governance and adherence to the principles of democracy, rule of law, accountability, transparency and social justice.

So why did he choose to go to the East African Court of Justice instead of the Court of Appeal?

"It is not illegal for my client to take the matter to the East African Court of Justice if he believes it is where he will get justice," responded Mabirizi.

Seguya accused President Museveni, Uganda Media Centre executive director Ofwono Opondo and Police Chief Political Commissar AIGP Asan Kasingye of blocking him from their respective Twitter handles, which he claimed were being used to disseminate public information.

Harvard student Seguya is accusing President Museveni of blocking him on Twitter

In his verdict, Justice Bashaija ruled that the said individual's Twitter accounts are personal and hence have latitude to choose on whom to allow or block.

The judge ruled that there is nothing which precludes a public official from using their private Twitter handle to communicate or comment on a private matter or on issue of public concern.

He further observed that usage of a private Twitter handle by public officials on an issue of public concern would not in itself transform a private Twitter page public.

Bashaija relied on the evidence of Kasingye, who he said confirmed to court that their Twitter handles are private and that their respective institutions have separate official Twitter accounts which they operate to communicate official/public matters.

According to Kasingye, the official Twitter handle which the President uses to disseminate public information is @stateHouseUg, Uganda Police Force use @policeUg while @ugandamediacent for the Government.

The judge noted that while the trio are public officials, they are not public bodies in the context contemplated in Section 3 of the Judicature (Judicial Review) (Amendment) Rules 2019.

Drawing from the Trump case

US President Donald Trump

Seguya had relied on a case of US President Donald Trump, where court found his Twitter handle fused in functions as official as well as personal. Bashaija, however, said his case is distinguishable from Trump's.

"The Trump case (supra) concerned issues as to constitutional interpretation in relation to the First Amendment of the US Constitution. In the instant application, however, the applicant does not seek the interpretation of the Constitution, but simply the enforcement of the provisions under Article 50(supra)," he ruled.

Basing on the Presidential Records Act, the US National Achieves and Records Administration advised the White House that the President's tweets are official records for preservation under the said Act.

"Such legislations and case law principles espoused, do not obtain in our jurisdiction, which is founded on common law jurisdiction, unlike the USA," observed Bashaija.

 In the Trump case, the US Appeals Court ruled that he had violated the First Amendment of the US Constitution when he blocked persons whose responses he did not like on his Twitter handle.

Court based its decision on the fact that Trump had opened the said Twitter account when he was President and used it for official communication and dissemination of official information to the public and hence it was an official Twitter handle to which he ought not to have blocked persons whose responses he did not like.

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