2021 Elections: CCEDU concerned about stringent laws on Social Media use

CCEDU coordinator Ms Charity Ahimbisibwe; File Photo

Citizens’ Coalition on Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) has expressed concern about pieces of legislation that are set to be applied during the forthcoming 2021 elections, saying they may be unfairly used to infringe on civil rights of Ugandans.

CCEDU says, stringent pieces of legislation that are part of the guidelines issued by the Electoral Commission (EC) ahead of the 2021 elections particularly the Computer Misuse Act 2011, have been selectively applied before to stifle freedom of expression which is likely to happen again in 2021.

According to a statement released on Wednesday, CCEDU cited Section 24 and 25 of the Act which criminalizes posting messages concerning important persons on social media and attracts a charge of cyber harassment.

Ms Charity Ahimbisibwe, the Coordinator CCEDU says, critiquing those in power will be a crime under section 25 of the Act, yet critiquing politicians during a political season would help voters decide on the most credible candidate.

She said, while Section 25 criminalizes willful and repeated “use of electronic communication to disturb or attempt to disturb the peace, quiet or right of privacy of any person without legitimate communication,” the Act does not clearly define what “offensive communication is, but simply refers to communication that “disturbs” someone else’ peace, quiet or right to privacy.

The law, Ms Charity says, denies Ugandans the right to fair trial because it takes the criminalization approach and imposes heavy punishments for actions that constitute offenses under the Act adding that almost all misconduct in the Act is punishable and not corrective.

Relating to past cases, Charity says, the Computer Misuse Act which was enacted to deal with the question of cybercrime has not fairly been applied by security forces.

She further notes that it is government critics that have been charged using the Computer Misuse Act and it’s application is likely to further constrain an already complicated COVID-19 Election.

The statement notes that the electoral processes and campaigns for Local Government leaders at all levels is going to be subjected to the provisions of Public Health (control of COVID-19), which infringe particularly on the right to assemble, associate and freedom of movement yet the three are key in helping citizens to take part in exercising civic rights including the right to vote or stand to be voted for.

“Therefore, since the 2021 electoral processes are prohibitive to the voters in the light of the pandemic, it is prudent that leas stringent laws are used in the conduct of elections” the statement reads in part.

CCEDU says they are working with a team of legal aid service providers and organizations that promote citizens’ rights to study these pieces of legislation and advise the EC on how to apply them without further constraining the electoral process already burdened by the pandemic.

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