Uganda blocks social media and mobile phone services during voting

Nairobi, February 18, 2016 — The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns Ugandan authorities’ restricting access to social media as voters went to the polls in today’s presidential elections.

According to press reports, the Uganda Communications Commission cited an unspecified threat to national security to justify blocking access to Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp at around 8 a.m. local time, an hour after voting began. Access to the services remained blocked on mobile phones at 9:15 p.m. local time.

“These social media platforms are an important tool for gathering and publicizing news from around Uganda on polling day,” CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney said from New York. “Closing them raises suspicions that any irregularities in voting may not be reported in a timely manner. Such censorship undermines the democratic process.”

The Mobile Telecommunications Network (MTN), a leading provider of mobile-phone service in the country, said on Twitter that the commission had ordered it to disable all social media and mobile money-transferring services “due to a threat to public order and safety.” It was not immediately clear if all mobile phone companies had complied with the order.

President Yoweri Museveni, who is seeking to extend his 30-year tenure, speaking about social media, today told television viewers, “Some people misuse those pathways. You know how they use them — telling lies. If you want a right, use it properly.”

CPJ has documented a series of repressive measures against the media in the weeks ahead of the elections, including physical attacks on journalists, the closure of radio stations, and the arrest of a radio talk show host in the middle of his broadcast.