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Ugandan Government to License Online Posts in Fresh Assault on Freedom of Expression

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) on 7th September issued a public notice stating that anyone who wished to publish public information online must be licensed ahead of a 5 October deadline.

As Kenyans, with a General election closing in, watching as the Ugandan Government deliver its latest blow to the right to freedom of expression ahead of their 2021 elections in silence would be stupid

In Uganda, the election campaigning will only be allowed through media and social media platforms following the breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic earlier this year that imposed heavy prevention measures.

The requirement for people to seek authorisation before posting information online is retrogressive and a blatant violation of the right to freedom of expression and access to information. With restrictions on public gatherings already in place, the Ugandan authorities are shutting off a vital channel for people to express their political opinions and share critical information about COVID-19
“Freedom of expression does not need a license.”
Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa

The 2016 Ugandan general elections took place amidst a government-ordered social media shutdown that European Union election observers said “unreasonably constrained freedom of expression and access to information”.

It is not unreasonable to ask how the laws in our neighboring countries affect us, in July 2018 Uganda imposed a tax law on social media, in 2020 the Kenyan Government released the Finance Bill, 2020 (Finance Bill) which proposed the introduction of a digital services tax payable at the time of the transfer of the payment for the service to the service provider at the rate of 1.5% of the gross transaction value. The tax will be chargeable on income from digital services accrued in or derived from Kenya through a digital market place.

Kenya has also been pushing The Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Bill, 2019 (commonly dubbed “the Social Media Bill”) which wants the Regulation of bloggers, Regulation of social media platforms, and introduction of Social Media User obligations.

As we prepare to go to the ballot, we must remain vigilant. The failure of democracy in Africa starts with the criminalization of freedom of speech.

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