U.S. condemns govt threats to close Facebook, Twitter

The US government has condemned the reported attempt by the government to block communication on social media networks and live broadcast of the walk-to-work protests against high fuel and commodity prices.

US Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner signed the statement issued yesterday which also expressed concern over the loss of life and continued arrest of opposition leaders by security forces during the protests. “We are also concerned by reports that the Ugandan government has attempted to restrict media coverage of these protests and, on at least one occasion, block certain social networking websites,” the statement said.

Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the national communications regulator, recently wrote to several Internet service providers directing them to block Facebook and Twitter networks for 24 hours during the protests that left five people dead, some of them shot by security forces and scores seriously injured. “We are troubled by the tragic loss of life and injuries at the hands of Uganda’s security forces during the recent walk-to-work protests, as well as the continued detention of opposition leaders,” the statement said.

FDC leader Kizza Besigye was released yesterday on bail after a week in prison while the DP leader Norbert Mao is still in detention until May 2. However, the government has denied directing UCC to block media houses from live-coverage of the demonstrations. “We don’t intend to block any media house from covering the demonstrations. What we are saying is that people using these platforms should be responsible,” Information minister, Kabakumba Masiko said yesterday.

The State Department also called on government to respect the right of the opposition to demonstrate.

Ms Masiko said they would punish security operatives who used excessive force on the demonstrators. Human rights and media activists welcomed the US condemnation. Dr Peter Mwesige of African Centre for Media Excellence said any attempt by government to muzzle the media is illegal.

Executive director of Foundation for Human rights Initiative Livingstone Ssewanyana said: “Media freedom in a fundamental value in any democratic society.”

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