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Social media blocked in Uganda as President Museveni sworn in for fifth term

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni stands under an umbrella during his swearing-in ceremony in Kampala, 12 May 2016
Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni stands under an umbrella during his swearing-in ceremony in Kampala, 12 May 2016

REUTERS/Edward Echwalu

This statement was originally published on on 12 May 2016.

The government has switched off social media platforms in Uganda ahead of the swearing in of President Yoweri Museveni, after the 18 February 2016 disputed elections, which saw the incumbent – who has been in power since 1986 – win against seven other contenders. This is the second time social media platforms are being switched off.

A message circulating reportedly from the telephone service providers to their subscribers quotes a directive from the communications regulator, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to switch off all social media platforms till after the swearing in ceremony, cited security safeguards. In February 2016, social media platforms were switched off arbitrarily, and a case is in court challenging the actions of the UCC in violating freedom of expression and access to information.

Meanwhile, on 11 May 2016, police arrested two journalists, shot at and injured a Channel 44 reporter as the army caned a female journalist. They had been covering a demonstration by Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) supporters, who were contesting the swearing in of Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, due to take place on 12 May 2016 in Kampala.

Denis Kato – a journalist with Channel 44 – was reportedly shot in his left leg and rushed to a nearby health centre for first aid treatment, while Arnold Mukose of Salt FM and Ndugga Nicholas of Delta TV were arrested. Damalie Muhaye of KFM was caned by army officers forcing her to give up on covering the news story.

“I was standing at [the] Radio One entrance (along Duster Street), covering, from a distance, people demonstrating at Nakasero market, when all over a sudden a rubber bullet hit my left leg,” Kato told HRNJ-Uganda in an interview. He said he was feeling severe pain as a result of the injury.

Muhaye – who was caned by army officers – told HRNJ-Uganda that she was covering a story about the unusually heavy traffic jam caused by traffic diversions by police ahead of the swearing in ceremony. “As I interviewed the locals, a scuffle ensued when army officers towing Col. Kizza Besigye's car, that had been impounded, were pelted with objects. The army responded by caning people at the scene, and that's how I fell victim [to] their wrath. I abandoned the story and left the place,” Muhaye narrated.

Elsewhere in Mengo, a Kampala suburb, police arrested journalists Arnold Mukose of Salt FM and Nicholas Ndugga of Delta TV for covering police officers who had surrounded the political party offices of the Justice Forum (JEEMA). JEEMA had, earlier in the day, addressed a press conference and thereafter, the party officials led by their President, Asuman Basalirwa went to visit the Lord Mayor-elect, Erias Lukwago who is under house arrest.

“On our way back from Lukwago's home, we found when police had surrounded the JEEMA offices, when we started to cover the events, police arrested us and took us to Lungujja police station from where we recorded statements; we were detained for about two hours, before we were transferred to Old Kampala police division. We were later released without any charges preferred against us,” Mukose told HRNJ-Uganda.

The Division Police Commander of Old Kampala Police, Muhammad Kirumira, told HRNJ-Uganda that the journalists were released because the case was not serious.

“UCC has continued to act in a partisan way by arbitrarily switching the various channels of communication for political reasons. Many Ugandans are inconvenienced whenever such forums are blocked without prior warning. About the actions of the police and army against journalists on duty, is very absurd. The security agents should act in a non-partisan way, and ensure a secure working environment for the media,” said HRNJ-Uganda National Coordinator, Robert Ssempala.

What other IFEX members are saying
  • Uganda: Social media ordered blocked for Museveni inauguration

    “Those actions raise more questions about the credibility of the entire electoral process, and shows the government’s lack of confidence in its own standing.”

  • Ugandan authorities must stop the clamp down on online media platforms - AFEX

    This developing trend of the Ugandan authorities clamping down on social media during important national events is extremely disturbing and must be brought to an end as it contravenes Ugandans’ right to free speech and access to information as guaranteed by the country’s constitution. AFEX calls on the Ugandan communication regulator, UCC to desist from the unjustifiable and unacceptable closure of social media platforms in the country.

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