By 6pm yesterday, Ugandans could not access Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp. This followed a directive from Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to temporarily block social media a day to president Museveni’s swearing in ceremony on May 12th 2016 a move that has attracted widespread criticism.
“Dear customers, as per UCC directive social media has been temporarily blocked however all our other services are available. We regret any inconveniences caused.” Read a statement on Airtel Uganda’s Facebook page.
There was no official statement from UCC on why social media had been blocked but it had been anticipated that the ban may take 24 hours.On Thursday this week, government announced a ban on live media coverage of the defiance campaign against President Yoweri Museveni’s re-election.
In a press conference on Thursday, Ugandan officials including Information Minister General Jim Muhwezi and the head of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), Godfrey Mutabazi, announced that any media outlets broadcasting or covering the protests could face having their licenses revoked.
“The purpose of this campaign [by the FDC] is to stop the swearing in of President Museveni which also goes against the will of the electorate,” said Muhwezi. “Any continuation to promote what the court has stopped is illegal and unacceptable and will not be tolerated by government.”
The defiance campaign was adopted by former presidential candidate, Kizza Besigye to undermine Museveni’s legitimacy after the 2016 February elections. Besigye calls the elections results a sham and has since mobilized national wide protests. Besigye on Wednesday released a video while he was being sworn in as the president of Uganda.Below is Besigye’s swearing in video
Uganda Communications Commission had warned during the press conference that the ban “may be extended to social media.”
The United States Embassy in Kampala condemned government’s actions. Part of a statement on its facebook page read;
“As we have said before, such acts send the wrong message to the Ugandan people and are violations of their rights, as guaranteed in the country’s laws and constitution.
A society that is free, vibrant, and successful depends on the free flow of information and ideas, including access to information online and through a free and independent press. We expect authorities to uphold these principles.”
During the February 18 election, government shutdown social media for four days saying it was a threat to national security. The move was international criticized.
During the February shutdown, many users were still able to access social media using virtual private networks (VPNs), this seems to be the case today.
In #Uganda, we are tweeting and facebooking from under the bed. Social networking sites (Twitter & Facebook) shut down ahead of swearing in.
— Agena (@maureenagena) May 11, 2016
It is official. Social Media is blocked https://t.co/PHqkJqMsoJ
— Alan Kasujja (@kasujja) May 11, 2016
Social media shut down ordered by Ugandan government ahead of contested swearing in ceremony of president Museveni pic.twitter.com/sG7mXCwGOo
— #IstandwithMM (@JZiras) May 11, 2016