Swedish blogger Raymond Soulfa alias Peng Peng has taken up arms against Uganda Communications Commission [UCC] over the regulator’s move to register and monitor social media influencers.
Influencers on Ugandan social media and others with large, commercialised online followings must henceforth register their activities for monitoring by the state, UCC ordered.
Authorities say the scheme, which also levies a $20 [Shs 74,163] fee, is designed to clamp down on immoral or prejudiced content.
Peng Peng recently made headlines for “chewing” herbalist Sophia Namutebi aka Mama Fiina, said he won’t register.
“My name peng peng currently known as lucifer. Im a blogger based in Sweden Clarifying “that i will not register with the UCC act,” he wrote on social media Tuesday.
“When I started blogging, I never sought for government’s approval. Which services has the government put in place to facilitate me as a blogger?”
He went on: “Uganda government should register what it accounted for. I will continue exposing this Evil kinda regime (NRM) on Facebook regardless of these clumsy institutions like UCC. Bobi Wine is a prophet, he said betutya, bebatutya [those we fear instead fear us]. People power nalo.”
UCC spokesperson, Ibrahim Bossa, told edge.ug on Tuesday that the registration will affect those who use social media for commercial gains.
“If you can use your Facebook to place adverts for companies or organisations, you should be regulated,” Bossa explained.
Asked on the case of Peng Peng and Ritah Kaggwa who are based in diaspora, Bossa said while those may not be required to register, there is need to clampdown on individuals using social media to malign and defame others.
“We should be able to point you out when someone reports a case of libel either to police or UCC.”
Bossa said some people operate on social media as ghosts because “you cannot even tell who they are” while others hide behind pseudonyms to tarnish people’s reputations.
He said, however, for the cases of libel and defamation will affect everyone alike whether their social media platforms are registered or not.
Bossa said UCC would embark on a process of sensitising the public on this matter and that the strategy is not a move by the regulator to suppress online content.
UCC has also been registering all online data publishers including radios, TVs, social media better known as online websites and live streamers.
Bossa says there is no difference between massively followed social media influencers [Twitter, Facebook, Instangram and YouTube] who use their platforms for ads alongside content and online radios and TVs.
The directive touches prominent musicians, journalists and socialites and all data communicators who could easily violate the known parameters of morality, of incitement, of ethnic prejudice or not be factual.
According to digital communications rights watchdog Unwanted Witness, between 2016 and 2018 at least 33 Ugandans have either been summoned and interrogated by police or charged with online communications offences.
The registration scheme is “not a positive move, it infringes on the rights to freedom of expression. People are able express themselves well when they know that somebody is not watching over them,” the organisation’s chief executive, Dorothy Mukasa, told Reuters.
Robert Ssempala, national coordinator for Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, told Reuters that, for many, the fee was prohibitive.
“The spirit of the regulation is essentially to make it extremely unaffordable, to make it extremely frightening for people to engage in sharing information on social media,” he added.
Case in point
On 22 September 2018, an email was sent to the Inspector General of Government (IGG) Public Relations office from one Mwebe Enock Bakaki through the Inspectorate’s web portal (website).
“If I get a gun, I will kill that stupid Musoga woman Mulyagonja for making my family to suffer when she terminated my employment at the Inspectorate of Government.”
The message landed 38-year old Mwebe a prison sentence.
Convicted on the two counts of threatening violence and cyber harassment by Her Worship Gladys Kamasanyu of the Buganda Road Utilities, Standards and Wildlife Court, Mwebe will spend 18 months in jail.
This case demonstrates how abusing online communication can result in criminal liability.
The IGG, Lady Justice Irene Mulyagonja, was understandably disturbed by the message when it was brought to her attention.
She promptly reported the matter to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) whose officers got Mwebe arrested and charged with two counts of threatening violence contrary to section 81(a) of the Penal Code Act, and cyber harassment contrary to section 24 of the Computer Misuse Act 2011.
According to section 81(a) of the Penal Code, “any person who with intent to intimidate or annoy any person, threatens to injure, assault, shoot or kill any person…commits an offence and is liable to imprisonment…”
Section 24(b) of the Computer Misuse Act criminalises the act of “threatening to inflict injury or physical harm to the person or property of any person” while section 24(c) is about knowingly permitting “any electronic communications device to be used for any of the purposes mentioned in this section.”
During the hearing, prosecution led by the UCC legal team of Waiswa Abudu Sallam, Martha Kamukama and Kenneth Lenox Seguya pointed out to court that there is an increase in the number of computer generated threats, which will only be contained if computer abusers such as the accused get deterrent sentences.
Although the accused denied ever working with the IGG, being personally to known to her let alone sending the aggressive message, prosecution successfully adduced evidence to prove that the message had been sent through his computer.
Testifying in court, the IGG explained that this message got her scared partly because two of her friends, Joan Kagezi and Robinah Kiyingi, had been brutally murdered after reportedly receiving such threatening messages. This realization, Lady Justice Mulyagonja told court, prompted her to report to the UCC.
In the end, Her Worship Kamasanyu agreed with prosecution and sentenced the accused to 18 months’ imprisonment on each count. Both sentences are to run concurrently.
Commenting on the case, UCC Head of Legal Mr Waiswa commended Lady Justice Mulyagonja for working with the Commission to see the case expedited, including personally testifying in court.
He said some cases of a similar nature are jeopardised by complainants who are reluctant to go the full length of the legal process for one reason or another.