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The stringent legislation on social media in 2021 curtails electoral democracy – CCEDU

KAMPALA – Recently, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) announced its plans and advised all online publications to register with them for proper regulation of the Industry.

This caused alot of ridicule from the targeted groups, saying it aimed at limping the opposition thus favoring those in power.

As part of the guidelines that the Electoral Commission issued for the campaigns of candidates  for District/City Lord Mayors,Municipality/City Division Chairpersons, Sub County/Town/Municipal Division Chairpersons, and the respective councillors, the additional pieces of legislation that shall be used to judge whether the process has been adhered to by candidates  and voters are:

The Uganda Communications Act, 2013, The Uganda Communications (Content) Regulations, Act, 2019, The Public Health (Control of COVID – 19) Rules, 2020 (SI 83/2020), The Computer Misuse Act, 2011, The Uganda Communications (Text and Multimedia Messaging) Regulations 2019 S.I 83/2019.

These pieces of legislation especially the Computer Misuse Act, section 24 and 25 means that posting opinions on social media about important persons might attract the charge of cyber harassment for whoever posts information through social media platforms.

Critiquing those in power will be a crime under section 25 of the same act and yet critiquing the powers that be in a political season is one way of helping voters decide on the most credible candidate to vote for.

 The Computer Misuse Act was enacted to deal with the question of cyber crime, but has not been used fairly by security personnel. Section 25 criminalises the wilful and repeated use of ‘electronic communication to disturb or attempt to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person without purpose of legitimate communication.’

 The Act does not clearly define what ‘offensive communication’, is, it simply refers to communicaton that ‘disturbs’ someone else’s peace, quite or right of privacy. This act denies the right to fair trial because it takes the criminalisation approach and imposes heavy punishments for actions that constitute offences under the Act. Almost all misconduct in this Act is punishable not corrective.

It is mainly Government critics that have been charged using the Computer Misuse Act, which is likely to further constrain an already complicated COVID-19 Election.

The electoral processes and campaigns for District/City Lord Mayors, Municipality/City Division Chairpersons, Sub County/Town/Municipal Division Chairpersons, and the respective councillors are also going to be subjected to the provisions of public health (Control of COVID-19) which particularly infringe on the right to assemble, associate and freedom to movement.

These three rights are key in helping citizens to take part in the conduct of public affairs, including the right to vote and to stand for election.

Therefore, since the 2021 electoral processes are prohibitive to the voters in the light of a pandemic, it is prudent that less stringent laws are used in the conduct of electoral processes.

In the meantime, CCEDU is working with a team of legal AID service providers and organisations that promote the rights of citizens in an Electoral process to study these pieces of law and advise the Electoral Commission on how to apply them without further constraining an electoral process that is burdened by a pandemic.

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