A 2016 research titled, “Analyzed Cyber laws of Uganda,” by Unwanted Witness and Civil Rights Defenders noted that many citizens view the internet as one of the remaining independent platforms where a decent and sound debate can take place and where ideas can be shared without political interference.
“That is why the government introduced in 2013 social media guidelines to structure dialogue between government officials and the citizens,” says Nanfuka.
She told The Independent that rather than the government suppressing citizens, there is need to see more voices online because that is where the actual social issues are increasingly being discussed.
A recent report from CIPESA noted that the East African region is experiencing a rise in restrictions of civic space which have mainly manifested through enactment of retrogressive legislation targeting civic activism and civil society organizations, violent crackdown on demonstrations and the arrest, threat to arrest and intimidation of journalists. CIPESA noted that civic space has a direct impact on the democratic credentials of a country.
“Shrinking civic space muffles citizens’ voices and threatens civil society’s very existence while also challenging citizens’ collective power for sustainable development as people to determine their own futures.”
In one of its recommendations, CIPESA says governments should cultivate the will for justice and ensure that crimes and violations committed against their citizens are condemned and the perpetrators punished.
CIPESA also urged the governments to desist from the practice of circumventing enacted laws to clampdown on critical voices and freedom of expression spaces.
Hours after regaining his freedom on July 16, Kabuleta appeared on local broadcaster NTV’s prime time news segment ‘News Night’ and recounted his ordeal to the nation.
Kabuleta told NTV that his so-called weekly rants were intellectual in nature and did not necessitate the torture he went through.
“If I were somebody exhibiting violent tendencies, if I was caught with a gun, if I was throwing stones on the street, then that would be the way to handle it,” he said, “But if I am handling things intellectually through discourse, I expect them to come along the same lines.”
Kabuleta insists his weekly rants are about expression, discourse and conversation because that is what Facebook is all about.
“I have written on religion, individuals, sports, governance in those rants and I write because I am a Ugandan and I have a right to comment about how I am governed as long as I am not talking about people who are not in public offices.”
“As long as they are in public office, they are not infallible; they are not God and even God and His son, Jesus Christ, get criticized,” Kabuleta said.
How Computer Misuse Act has been used to clampdown on social media critics
The Computer Misuse Act, 2011 has been used to clampdown on social media critics and over a dozen Ugandans have been arrested for allegedly offending President Museveni over the last three years with Dr. Stella Nyanzi topping that list.
Nyanzi who until recently was a fellow at the Makerere Institute of Social Research in Makerere University has over the last eight months been on remand owing to her Facebook posts written in explicit language criticizing President Museveni and his family.
In 2016, Dr. Stella Nyanzi was arrested after she published a post on her Facebook page insulting President Museveni. She was arrested again on Nov. 2, last year, for insulting President Museveni’s deceased mother. In both instances, Nyanzi is facing charges relating to offensive communication and cyber harassment.
In December 2016, one Swaibu Nsamba Gwogyolonga was arrested on charges of offensive communication against President Museveni. Nsamba allegedly wrote on his Facebook wall noting how he will “announce and mourn” the death of President Museveni when he dies.
The post was accompanied with a photoshopped image showing how Museveni would look after his demise. Interestingly, Nsamba said the charges against him infringed on his freedom of expression.
In June 2015, Robert Shaka was arrested and remanded to Luzira Prison after being charged with offensive communication contrary to Section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act. According to the charge sheet, the state alleged that Shaka, disguised as Tom Voltaire Okwalinga (TVO) between 2011 and 2015 in Kampala, willfully using a computer with no purpose of legitimate communication, disturbed the right to privacy of President Museveni by posting statements regarding his health condition on Facebook.
Last year, Mukono Municipality MP, Betty Nambooze was arrested and detained on charges under the Computer Misuse Act for her alleged social media comments prior to and after the shooting to death of Arua Municipality MP Ibrahim Abiriga and his brother.
In October, last year, one Susan Namata and her unidentified friend appeared before the Buganda Road Magistrate Court for allegedly recording a video threatening to hit President Museveni with their genitals. Namata was charged with the offence of offensive communication and cyber harassment towards the person of the president. She was remanded but later granted bail.
On New Year’s Day, police in Gomba District arrested Joseph Kasumba, 19, a resident of Kanoni town council for allegedly abusing the president who was travelling from Kasaka in southern Uganda where he had just attended a New Year’s church service.
When his convoy reached Kanoni town, President Museveni’s security reportedly ordered one of the civilian drivers to move his vehicle from the road to allow the presidential motorcade to pass. Instead a group of young men allegedly led by Kasumba started exchanging words with the soldiers, referring to Museveni pejoratively as “Bosco.”
In February, city socialite, Shanita Namuyimba (Bad Black) was interrogated by the police CID for allegedly abusing and defaming President Museveni on social media.