Uganda’s Changes On Computer Misuse Law Spark Fears It Will Be Used To Silence Dissidents

By News  Writer |

Uganda’s controversial Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill 2022, which rights groups say will likely be used to silence dissenting voices online, has come into force after the country’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni signed it into law yesterday.

The country’s legislators had passed amendments to the 2011 Computer Misuse Act in early September, limiting writing or sharing of content on online platforms, and restricting the distribution of children’s details without the consent of their parents or guardians.

The bill was brought before the house to “deter the misuse of online and social media platforms.” A document tabled before the house stated that the move was necessitated by reasoning that “enjoyment of the right to privacy is being affected by the abuse of online and social media platforms through the sharing of unsolicited, false, malicious, hateful and unwarranted information.”

The new law, which is also curbing the spread of hate speech online, recommends the application of several punitive measures, including ineligibility by offenders to hold public office for 10 years and imprisonment for individuals who “without authorization, accesses another person’s data or information, voice or video records and shares any information that relates to another person” online.

Rights groups and a section of online communities are worried the law might be abused by regimes, especially the current one, to limit free speech and punish persons that criticize the government. Some have plans to challenge it in court.

Fears expressed by varying groups come in the wake of increasing crackdowns on individuals that don’t shy away from critiquing Museveni’s (Uganda’s longest-serving president, who also blocked social media in the run up to last year’s general election) authoritarian regime online.

Recently, a Ugandan TikToker, Teddy Nalubowa, was remanded in prison for recording and sharing a video that celebrated the death of a former security minister, who led the troops that killed 50 civilians protesting the arrest of opposition politician Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (Bobi Wine) in 2020. Nalubowa, a member of Ssentamu’s National Unity Platform, was charged with offensive communication in contravention of the Computer Misuse Act 2011 amid public outcry over the harassment and intimidation of dissidents. Ssentamu, Museveni’s critic and country’s opposition leader, recently said the new amendment is targeting his ilk.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) had earlier called on Museveni not to sign the bill into law, saying that it was an added arsenal that authorities could use to target critical commentators, and punish media houses by criminalizing the work of journalists, especially those undertaking investigations.

The Collaboration for International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) had also made recommendations including the deletion of Clause 5, which bars people from sending unsolicited information online, saying that it could be abused and misused by the government.

“In the alternative, a clear definition and scope of the terms “unsolicited” and “solicited” should be provided,” it said.

It also called for the scrapping of punitive measures, and the deletion of clauses on personal information and data, which duplicated the country’s data protection law.

The CIPESA said the law also is likely to infringe on the digital rights of individuals, including the freedom of expression and access to information, adding that the provisions did not address issues, like trolling and harassment, brought forth by emerging technologies as the law sought to do in the first place.

This article was first published by the Ghana Business on Oct 15, 2022.

A New Interception Law and Blocked Websites: The Deteriorating State of Internet Freedom in Burundi

By CIPESA Writer |

 The state of internet freedom in Burundi continues to decline as the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza tightens control over independent media and critical online publishers. Of recent, frivolous sanctions have been slapped against media houses, access to some online publishers’ websites restricted, and last May, an obnoxious law was enacted that makes it easier for security agencies to conduct surveillance on citizens’ communications with little judicial oversight.

The deteriorating situation follows a May 2015 coup attempt which saw the physical destruction of five private radio and televisions stations by loyalist forces and pro-government militia, and the arrest of several journalists. The events were preceded by a government order to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block access to social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Viber, so as to curtail demonstrations against Nkurunziza’s bid to run for a new term in office.

On May 11, 2018 Burundi’s president assented to Law No 1/09 of May 11 2018, which amends the Code of Criminal Procedure of 2013. Under Article 47 of the new law, government agencies carrying out investigations can intercept electronic communications and seize computer data. Further, Articles 69, 70 and 71, permit the public prosecutor to issue a written order to start interception of electronic communication of a person under investigation.  Moreover, the public prosecutor has the right to instruct service providers and “any qualified agent” from a department or agency under the authority or supervision of the telecoms minister to install any device to facilitate interception.

On the issue of seizure of computer data, Article 72 grants the public prosecutor, without notifying a person under investigation, the right to order the use of technical tools to access data on the suspect’s device (wherever it is located), to save that data, and transmit it. The tool also has the aim of real time capture of data being received or transmitted by the suspect’s device or being typed on the device. The initial duration of this order is a maximum of six months but this period can be extended for another six months if needed. The seized data has to be destroyed after trial. Articles 73 to 79 provide details of conditions in which the technical tool is used.

The new law, which was introduced on April 28 and passed within two weeks, is deemed to be in contravention of the constitution. A human right activist has stated  that the law is “clearly a wish to legalise the illegal and arbitrary practices that the forces of law and order have already resorted to for the last three years.” On the contrary, the justice minister defended the law, arguing that the amendments were necessary to give the prosecutor and other government organs powers to address new forms of criminal activity that have emerged in the last few years.

The amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure come into place when online news media is under attack. Since October 2017, the websites of independent local news publishers,, and cannot be accessed from Burundi except through use of circumvention methods such as proxies. Tests using the network measurement tool, Ooni probe  indicate that the websites are blocked from access within Burundi.

In interviews, Iwacu officials confirmed that access to their website was blocked but the Conseil National de la Communication (Burundi’s media regulator) denies any hand in it. Some experts believe the blockage was effected at the level of the Burundi Backbone System (BBS), the primary bandwidth carrier from which most Burundian ISPs purchase bandwidth. Representatives from BBS denied this allegation and advised the news sites to work with ISPs to resolve the matter. Meanwhile, an October 2017 letter to the CNC from the Ikiriho group, an independent online press group (, requesting that its website be unblocked has never received a response.

Interestingly, Isanganiro’s radio station still operates from within Burundi, as is Iwacu’s weekly print newspaper. Online access to the electronic version of Iwacu’s weekly newspaper is charged at USD 27 for a three months subscription, or USD 95 yearly, which means the challenges in accessing its website is affecting the publisher’s revenues. Iwacu accordingly announced an alternative website where readers can access news and has been assisting readers, particularly paying customers, to access its main site using virtual private networks (VPN).

On April 10, 2018, in what seemed like an additional sanction against the online portal, the CNC issued its decision No 100/ CNC/005 ordering Iwacu to ban the comments section of its online news website. The ban followed comments made by the website readers referring to Burundi as a “Banana Republic” while another called the National Police a “presidential police” due to its partisan actions. According to the regulator, the comments violated Article 17 of the Burundi press law No 1/15 of May 9 2015, which requires media groups to rigorously cross-check sources of information before publishing. The three months ban on readers’ comments, is the second slapped on Iwacu by the CNC, the first having been issued in 2013 for similar reasons.

In sanctioning Iwacu, the CNC cited article 55 of the press Law, which gives the communications regulator “the right to suspend or prohibit the use of a press pass (journalist pass or press card), the distribution or the sale of a printed newspapers, a periodical, or any other information medium, the broadcast of a show, the operation of a radio or television station or a news agency, when they do not comply with the law.”

The Iwacu director expressed his sadness at what he deemed an “unfair decision” that would close a “democratic space” where all opinions, both critical and supportive of the Burundi were shared. Nonetheless the comments section was promptly shut down, and currently under each news item there is a message reading: “Due to the CNC’s decision, you cannot react nor add any comment to this article.

In another worrying development, on May 4, 2018, the CNC issued warnings to three radio stations – Radio Isanganiro, Radio CCIB FM+, and Radio France International (RFI, and suspended the licences for BBC and Voice of America (VOA) for six months on allegations of not verifying sources and  broadcasting unbalanced news. The BBC was faulted for interviewing Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a Burundian human rights defender who fled Burundi after an assassination attempt in 2015. The regulator claims that, in the interview which aired on April 24, 2018, the activist who is now based in Europe made “defamatory statements against the head of state” and incited “hatred”.

The VOA was accused of publishing unverified news on three occasions during April 2018. In addition, the VOA was accused of broadcasting through the Online Radio Box application used by Radio Bonesha, a local station whose frequency license was withdrawn by the media regulator last September. Radio Bonesha is among the media houses whose premises were destroyed in 2015 following the coup attempt but it has continued broadcasting via Online Radio Box.

The various developments in the online sphere reflect a similarly worrying rights situation offline. Nkurunziza’s government has continued to face criticism at home and abroad, including accusations by a United Nations committee of inquiry of extrajudicial killings of civilians, including supporters of the opposition, in what could amount to crimes against humanity.

Some observers believe that all criminal code amendments and measures against online and traditional media aimed to silence dissonant voices at a time the country was about to hold a May 17, 2018 referendum on a new constitution. Majority of voters – 73% – voted in favour of the new constitution but opponents say the poll was full of irregularities.

The Burundi government needs to respect the constitutional rights to free speech, access to information and privacy of the citizens and desist from enacting laws and taking other actions that undermine digital rights. Moreover, it should desist from passing laws and regulations without giving citizens the opportunity to meaningfully provide their views.


Oral Statement Delivered At The United Nations Human Rights Council

Joint Statement |
Thank you, Mr. President.

This statement is delivered on behalf of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), Derechos Digitales, and the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET).

As organisations committed to maintaining the use of the internet for human rights, social justice and sustainable development, we are concerned about the increase in threats to freedom of expression online. Attacks on freedom of expression online are taking many forms, including internet shutdowns, regressive cybercrime laws, and privatisation of censorship, among others.

We wish to highlight for the attention of the Council the following situations of concern:

In Uganda, the government adopted a “social media tax” in May, which will require users of over-the-top (OTT) services, including messaging and voice calls via WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype and Viber. to pay a mandatory fee of USD 0.05 per day of use. In a context in which social media has served as many users’ initial entry point to the internet, this tax could negatively impact the affordability and broader use of the internet, particularly by low-income Ugandans, as well as stifle freedom of expression, association and assembly online. Similarly, the recent introduction of stringent online content regulations in Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic of Republic of Congo threaten citizens’ rights to privacy and freedom of expression and promote self-censorship.

In Latin America, we observe a trend by governments in the region to regulate online expression that is critical of dominant political forces or that amplifies dissident voices of traditionally discriminated groups, under the guise of “online hate speech” or “cybersecurity”. Examples can be found in Brazil, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Venezuela, among others. In some cases, legislative reforms have been introduced just before the start of electoral processes or the rise of social movements; in others, restrictive measures are administratively established, bypassing democratic legislative processes entirely. We also observe efforts in the region to criminalise expression and to require private companies to moderate online content, an issue addressed in detail by the recent report of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression. This implies an undermining of due process, as required by international human rights standards, by delegating the function of the judiciary to the private sector. At the same time, it incentivises companies to err on the side of caution and take down content to avoid facing high fines or, in the case of Venezuela, the threat of revocation of authorisation to operate.

We urge the Council with its bi-annual resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet to condemn and call for the end to such restrictions on online expression, and to adopt human rights-based approaches to internet access and regulation.

Thank you, Mr. President.

Source: Information.