Netizen Report: Uganda Vows to Step Up Online Censorship

Telco ad on a van in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by futureatlas.com via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Telco ad on a van in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by futureatlas.com via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Global Voices Advocacy's Netizen Report offers an international snapshot of challenges, victories, and emerging trends in Internet rights around the world.

A series of recent stories on Internet policy in Uganda paints a grim picture of the online-speech environment in the country. On October 6, Internal Affairs Minister James Baba announced plans to enforce new regulations governing the use of social media for Ugandans. Little more is known about the regulations at present, but the bill likely bodes poorly for Uganda’s tense speech environment. Advocates at Unwanted Witness, a local human rights and free expression organization, worry that the law will compound the chilling effects of already-existing cyber laws in the country such as the Computer Misuse Act, the Anti-Pornography law and the Communications Act.

Meanwhile, new research from the London-based advocacy group Privacy International shows that the Ugandan government purchased the invasive spying software FinFisher in an effort to eavesdrop on the communications of opposition politicians and supporters, journalists, and activists. Documents show that President Yoweri Museveni launched Operation Fungua Macho (“open your eyes”) in response to widespread political unrest that erupted over alleged corruption, police brutality, and high living costs following the 2011 election.

These stories come as no surprise to Ugandan journalists and media freedom advocates who have long faced harassment and legal threats from authorities as a result of their reporting.

Ethiopian bloggers acquitted of terror charges, but the struggle continues

After 18 months in prison, four of Ethiopia’s Zone9 bloggers were acquitted of terrorism charges brought because of their writings on social and political issues in Ethiopia. Three were released on October 19, while Befeqadu Hailu was released on bail on October 21. The Global Voices community welcomed the news and has pledged to keep fighting for the cause of free expression in Ethiopia and around the world. Community members stressed the importance of supporting other bloggers and tech experts currently facing criminal charges in Ethiopia, such as Zelalem Workagenegu, a blogger who was jailed after applying to participate in a social media and digital tools training.

Myanmar arrests another activist for Facebook post

A Myanmar citizen was arrested on October 15 for sharing on Facebook a photo of a man stomping on a portrait of military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing. The man in the photo was wearing a Kachin-style longyi, a traditional sarong-like garment worn in the ethnic minority region of Kachin, where an armed independence movement has been under way since the 1940s. Police told regional news outlet The Irawaddy that Patrick Khum Jaa Lee, who is the husband of a well-known Kachin women’s rights and peace activist May Sabe Phyu, has been charged under Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law after an army colonel filed suit against him.

Tanzania cuts its teeth on new Cybercrime law

Tanzania is testing out its recently passed Cybercrimes Act, charging two citizens for posts on Facebook. In one case, a student was charged for publishing information that was “false or not verified by relevant authorities.” The post in question alleged that Tanzania’s Chief of Defence forces had been hospitalized after consuming food that had been poisoned. In the other, the individual was charged with “misuse of the Internet” for a post saying Tanzania’s Prime Minister “will only become a gospel preacher.” Little more is currently known about either case.

Watch out for Ukraine's new cybercops

Ukraine's law enforcement ranks will soon feature a special division tasked with preventing cyberthreats and apprehending criminals in the information sphere. In an announcement on Facebook, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said new cyberpolice officers, who will work as part of the Ministry of Interior, will deal with Internet and digital crimes including scheming, cash-trapping, carding, phishing, online money laundering, digital piracy, card sharing, malware and even less tangible crimes such as social engineering.

New Research

Ellery Roberts Biddle, Hae-in Lim and Sarah Myers West contributed to this report.

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