In their petition, the lawyers who came to sue led by the East African Law Society President Bernard Oundo, also argue that despite the internet restoration, access to social media platform like Facebook remains restricted to date.
The East African Law Society has sued the government of Uganda
seeking compensation to everyone affected for its alleged illegal actions of
shutting down the internet during the just concluded general elections.
The law society that brings together more than 18,000
lawyers from seven East African Countries have sued the Attorney General of
Uganda as the first respondent and the Secretary General of East African Community
as the second respondent in the case filed on Friday evening at the East
African Court of Justice Sub registry in Kampala.
The learned friends are suing the government of Uganda for
breaching laws under the Treaty for the establishment of the East African
Community by unlawfully restricting the citizens and residents access to the
internet and to internet based communications platforms.
On his part, the Secretary General for EAC is being sued for
alleged failure to fulfil his duty of investigating and submitting his findings
in regard to Uganda’s violation of the Treaty in the context of shutting down
internet to the East African Community Council for appropriate action.
According to the lawyers, on January 12 2021, Uganda government through
its agency the Uganda Communications Commission ordered all Internet Service
Providers within Uganda to block access to internet based social media platforms
in addition to the online mobile application stores, google play store and App
Store among others.
The government also further ordered the blocking of access
to over 100 Virtual Private Networks-VPNs barring any attempts to circumvent
it's alleged internet censorship.
They add that on January 13 2021, a day to the general
elections, government further shut down internet for five days up to January 18 2021.
As such, the argue that Ugandans and everyone living in Uganda was unable to
access any internet platform whatsoever.
In their petition, the lawyers who came to sue led by the
East African Law Society PresidentBernard Oundo also argue that despite the internet
restoration, access to social media platform like Facebook remains restricted to
The government of
Uganda has to date restricted Facebook usage following its blocking of the
supporters of the ruling government who were reportedly violating the global platform's policies.
The lawyers contend that as result of the said
restrictions and shutdown, several businesses such as communication,
dissemination of information monitoring of elections, elections, access to electronic
payment systems, banking services, online markets, online transport system and access
to health services among others were affected.
In the aftermath, the records before court state that the livelihoods
of persons whose employment and businesses rely on the internet suffered
extensive financial loss and hardships.
To them, the said actions amount to the breach of the
principles of good governance, democracy rule of law, public accountability and
transparency and social justice which all contravene the EAC treaty.
According to their President Oundo, the lawyers now want court to issue a permanent
and mandatory injunction against Uganda government to immediately lift or withdraw any and
all illegitimate restrictions on the internet and compensate all people
affected by its alleged unlawful actions.
//Cue in: “Our major argument…
Cue out: .. out our
//Cue in: “Ensonga eyokubiri tuze…
Cue out: …byakolebwa simumateeka”. //
According to the evidence backing up the case, the Acting
Executive Director of UCC Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo first wrote to the Managing
Director of Simbanet Limited asking them to suspend the operation of the
internet gateways until further notice. This was in her confidential letter
dated January 13 2021.
"In exercise of its functions under section 5(1) and 56
of the UCC Act of 2013, UCC hereby directs you to implement a temporary
suspension of the operation of all your internet gateways and associated access
points. This suspension should take effect at 7pm this day of 13th January 2021
and continue until otherwise directed" reads the letter in part.
The East African Law Society brings together lawyers from
Burundi Bar Association, the Law Society of Kenya, Rwanda Bar Association,
South Sudan Bar Association, Tanganyika Law Society, Uganda Law Society and the
Zanzibar Law Society together with their individual members.
Some of its core objectives is the promotion of regional
integration of the East African Community, supporting the organs and
institutions of the East African Community to realize their mandate, promotion
of good governance, human rights and the rule of law in the region and
advancing the growth of the legal profession within the region.
This is not the first case of internet shutdown being filed before the East African Court of Justice against the government of Uganda.
On January 21 2021, Kampala based lawyer Male Mabirizi sued the government demanding for the compensation of unused data that was lost to the telecommunication companies due to the shutdown.
Mabirizi's case is already fixed for hearing on June 15 2021 and the government of Uganda on March 9 2021 started defending itself over the matter.