The GNI is alarmed by reports that the government of Uganda has ordered mobile operators to block access to social media platforms and mobile money services during its presidential election. Shutdowns of these vital services chill free expression, cut off individuals from relatives and restrict access to vital information and services.

The GNI urges the Ugandan government to adhere to its international human rights commitments and to ensure that any restrictions on freedom of expression meet the thresholds of legality, necessity, and proportionality set out in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the requirements of Article 9 of the African Charter of Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“The Ugandan government must promptly restore access to communications services and to refrain from similar censorship in the future,” said GNI Board Chair Mark Stephens, CBE.

“Efforts by government officials to prevent the public from using social media to peacefully express their views have a profound chilling effect on free expression and undermine the legitimacy of political processes,” said Mr Stephens.

The GNI has previously expressed concern about the blocking of social media services in Egypt (in 2016 and 2011), Brazil, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, and is troubled by what appears to be an increasing trend of governments restricting access to communications platforms around elections or during times of political dissent or crisis.

GNI urges that the Ugandan authorities heed the Joint Declaration of 2015 of the four United Nations special rapporteurs for freedom of expression, which stated that “Filtering of content on the Internet, using communications ‘kill switches’ (i.e. shutting down entire parts of communications systems) and the physical takeover of broadcasting stations are measures which can never be justified under human rights law.”

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) companies have a primary role in the operation of global communications networks that enable the free flow of information. However, companies are increasingly facing the challenge of government laws and practices that violate international human rights norms, and often find themselves under duress from governments to operate in ways that go beyond legally accountable law enforcement activities. In these circumstances, a valuable first step for companies is to be transparent and have human rights principles in place to govern their response.

GNI can help companies develop strategies to operate in a manner that protects and advances human rights, in accordance with our Principles and Implementation Guidelines.

For more information on our members’ government and ICT company responsibilities with respect to freedom of expression and privacy, visit the Global Network Initiative website.