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East Africa Law Society Sues Uganda for Imposing Internet Shutdown during January Polls

The East African Law Society has taken the Ugandan government to court over the Shutdown of the internet during the election period.

The EALS filed a petition at the Arusha-based regional courts accusing Uganda’s government of shutting down social media and VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) access in the country prior to imposing a total internet shutdown in the country on January 13,2021. Uganda’s general elections were held early this year on January 14.

“Such actions are part of a worrying and growing trend of mass censorship and intolerance to dissent within the member states of the East African Community (EAC),” EALS President Mr Bernard Oundo said in a statement.

Read: Facebook Condemns Social Media and Internet Blackouts in Africa

According to the Regional entity, locking citizens out of social media goes violates the rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights.

Tanzania and Burundi were also reported for carrying out similar practices during their election period.

“The restrictions and shutdowns are unlawful,” Mr.Odundo stressed, adding that the actions go against the EAC treaty, the country’s domestic laws and international laws for human rights.

Read also: President Museveni Defends Social Media Shutdown As Criticism Mounts

The United Nations believes that access to the internet in this digital age contributes to the broader range of human rights including freedom of expression, freedom of information, the right to assemble and association, the right to health care and standard quality of life through economic activity.

Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that governments are required to adhere to their international human rights commitments. Nations are only required to carry out legal, necessary, and proportional restrictive measures on freedom of expression in exceptional cases legal.

“If not addressed in time and checked, the rising trend of internet censorship in East Africa will only deepen,” Mr. Oundo cautioned.

Read also: These Sub-Saharan African Countries Lost Sh26 billion Due to Internet Shutdowns in 2020

The EALS is seeking compensation for inconvenience and losses suffered by the Ugandan citizens, with a declaration of the violation by Uganda’s Attorney General and the EAC Secretary-General.

The petition also seeks to compel Uganda to implement legal reforms with the supervision of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) to ensure the action is not replicated in the future.

“We hope that the Reference will serve as a deterrent for EAC member states and send the message that illegal actions will not be ignored or taken lightly,” Mr Oundo said. “We call upon the peoples of the EAC and Civil Society Organisations to remain vigilant in holding the governments of East Africa accountable so that together, we can make the EAC a law-abiding community, one people, one destiny.”

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