Uganda: Order to remove opposition channels on Youtube must be challenged

Uganda: Order to remove opposition channels on Youtube must be challenged - Digital


ARTICLE 19 East Africa, together with 27 other organisations, have published an open letter urging Alphabet Inc. to challenge the Ugandan government’s request seeking for the removal of 14 opposition Youtube channels. We believe that restricting these channels, ahead of the country’s 2021 general elections, will seriously violate their right to freedom of expression and access to information on issues of public interest.

Open letter to Alphabet

Dear Mr. Pichai,

We the undersigned organizations recognize that various Google platforms, in particular YouTube, have been a critical gateway for the exercise of freedom of expression online, enabling people to seek and impart information on a broad range of issues.

At the same time, we understand that Google finds itself under constant pressure from governments and public bodies to remove content deemed harmful or illegal under the respective national laws. These requests are often based on vague and overbroad legislation, which does not comply with international freedom of expression standards, placing human rights at great risk.

We are extremely concerned about a recent request, sent to you on 9 December 2020 by the Government of Uganda through the country’s telecommunication regulator, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC). It requested that YouTube blocks over 14 YouTube channels, mainly targeting opposition political members and citizen journalists, for allegedly mobilizing riots. This is of great concern to human rights groups, individual internet users, and the general public.

We find that the Ugandan Government request for blocking access to YouTube channels goes contrary to a number of its human rights commitments and violates rights and freedoms of conscience, expression, association, and access to information, guaranteed under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and under Article 20 (1), 27 (2), 29 (1) and 43 (1) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda as amended.

We also note that under international freedom of expression standards, insofar as blocking may already be permitted by law, this measure should only be imposed by the courts or other independent and impartial adjudicatory bodies. This is not the case with the present order. We believe that if YouTube does not contest this request, it will participate in a direct attack on freedom of expression and democracy ahead of the country’s 2021 general elections.

YouTube serves as a critical platform for online campaigning and interaction with the voting public for all political parties in Uganda. Restricting the ability of those critical of the current government of Uganda to use Youtube channels in this period will violate their right to freedom of expression and deprive people of access to important information on issues of public interest.

Alphabet Inc. has an obligation and a corporate responsibility to respect human rights as guided by the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This responsibility to respect human rights is a global standard of expected conduct for all business enterprises wherever they operate.

We, further, urge you to challenge the government of Uganda’s request for blocking the 14 channels through legal means available to your company.

Yours sincerely,
Unwanted Witness Uganda
Africa Cybersecurity and Digital Rights Organization (ACDRO)
Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET)
Centre for Multilateral Affairs (CfMA)
The African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms Coalition
Media Rights Agenda
Cyber Law Initiative
The Open Forum Initiative
Women Human Rights Defenders Network Uganda
Center for Media Literacy and Community Development
Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)
Center for Constitutional Governance CCG
African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Advocacy Initiative for Development (AID)
Réseau des Journalistes Burundais pour la CPI (Network of Burundian Journalists forthe ICC), RJB-CPI
Paradigm Initiative (PIN)
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Human Rights Network for Journalists – Uganda
Bareedo Platform – Somalia
Access Now
National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Uganda
Securing Organizations with Automated Policy-building (SOAP)
Blueprint for Free Speech