A High Court in Uganda has dismissed with costs- a case in which the Civil Society body is challenging the legality of an internet shutdown during the 2021 polls.

High Court judge, Musa Ssekaana ruled that the case was wrongfully filed before the court and it ought to be struck off.

He said the case was supposed to be brought before the Constitutional Court as cited under Rule 7(2) which states: A public Interest action under Article 5(1)(d) shall be filed in the Constitutional Court under Article 137 of the Constitution and not the High Court.

“Shutdown only temporarily might fit well with the politics, especially where public order is fronted. As noted from the affidavit evidence, the shutdown was for less than a fortnight and happened in Uganda for the second time by the same authority,” the judge noted.

The court decision resulted from a case in which the Civil Society body; Unwanted Witness (U) Limited, sued the Attorney General (AG), Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), MTN, Airtel and the defunct Africell Uganda.

Unwanted Witness (U) Limited had sought a declaration that shutting down social media during the 2016 General Election violated Articles 29, 22 and 45 of the Constitution.

They had also sought an order that the AG refunds all the OTT tax paid for the period from January 9 until the month end with restoration of access to all social media services unconditionally.

Their application read in part: “An order restraining the respondents against future arbitrary and unjustified shutdown and restrictions of access to Internet and social media services to the public with costs of the application.”

According to Justice Ssekaana, the case was premised on facts which are similar with an earlier matter which was filed in the Constitutional Court by the same complainant in 2017 against the AG.

“This application is an abuse of the court process. The applicant is trying to re-litigate an action finally and judicially pronounced upon and determined by the constitutional court,” he ruled.

Also, on April 30, 2021, a panel of five Constitutional Court justices led by deputy Chief Justice Richard Buteera dismissed the petition challenging the government shutdown of mobile money and internet services during the 2016 General Election on grounds that the shutdown was justifiable.

The other justices included Kenneth Kakuru (retired), Catherine Bamugemereire, Christopher Izama Madrama, and Irene Mulyagonja.

During the February 18 elections, social media in Uganda was shut down following a directive from UCC to the internet service providers to disable all social media and mobile money services due to a “threat to public order and safety”.

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