Despite international awareness and condemnation, the Ugandan government is still trying to shut down Twitter and Facebook to stem the protests currently going in within its borders. Reporters Without Borders has now stepped in, writing an open letter urging the Ugandan government “to respect freedom of expression and not obstruct online social networks and news media on the eve of new opposition demonstrations.”
As we discussed last week, the government had attempted to cut off access to Twitter during the “walk to work” protests that saw Ugandans walk to work instead of drive, protesting high gas prices in the country. #WalkToWork was a trending topic on Twitter last week, despite the fact that the Ugandan government had issued orders to ISPs to block Twitter.
And while the government is claiming that this attempted social media shutdown is for the safety of the people, it’s clear that it is really a thinly veiled attempt at stemming the public’s ability to self-organize against a corrupt regime.
Reporters Without Borders spoke with Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) executive director Godfrey Mutabazi to confirm his statement to Reuters that he would give new orders to shut down Facebook and Twitter. He told them over the phone that the government would only shut down these social networks to protect the public, and that Ugandan citizens should see his statements as a warning not to use Twitter and Facebook to incite hatred or violence. In a rather ominous quote, he told Reporters Without Borders, “The freedom to live is more important than the freedom to express oneself.”
When the UCC issued the orders to cut off Twitter and Facebook during the “walk to work” protests last week, several of the ISPs did not comply. There’s hope that those that stood firm will be able to keep Twitter and Facebook up for at least part of the country if the UCC does issue new shutdown orders.
All eyes are on Uganda as its people struggle to have their voices heard. Twitter and Facebook have proven to be invaluable tools for the witnessing of arrests and violence against the people, as well as avenues for journalists to report from within a notoriously restricted region.
image courtesy of the BBC/AP