The East Africa Law Society (EALS) has filed a petition at the Arusha-based regional court challenging the shutdown of internet during Uganda’s General Election in January.
Uganda held its election on January 14, 2021.
The EALS accuses the Ugandan government of blocking access to social media networking platforms and more than 100 Virtual Private Networks (VPN) before imposing a total internet shutdown within the country on January 13, 2021.
The regional law bar says restricting citizens and residents from accessing the internet is against the rule of law, good governance and respect for human rights, which the society has the mandate to promote across the region.
“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),” Mr Bernard Oundo, the EALS president, says in a statement.
Tanzania and Burundi were also reported for blocking access to major social media networks during their October and May 2020 general elections, respectively.
“The restrictions and shutdowns are unlawful,” stressed Mr Oundo, explaining that they violate the EAC Treaty, international human rights law and the domestic laws of the affected countries.
Such restrictions limit, among others, the peoples’ rights to internet access, freedom of access to information, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of the press, the right to freely participate in the affairs of one’s government, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, the right to self-determination and economic rights.
They also violate the obligation of EAC state governments to abide by the principles of good governance, democracy, the rule of law, public accountability and transparency, and social justice.
“If not addressed in time and checked, the rising trend of internet censorship in East Africa will only deepen,” Mr Oundo cautioned.
In the petition it filed against both Uganda’s Attorney General and the EAC Secretary General, the EALS isseeking declarations that the government violated the law as well as compensation for inconvenience and loss suffered by many Ugandan citizens, residents, and businesses.
The petition is also seeking a structural interdict compelling the Uganda government to put in place legal and other reforms, under the supervision of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ), to ensure a repeat of the challenged violations does not occur.
“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.”