The High Court in Ireland has ordered global social media giant, Facebook, to reveal the identity of Tom Voltaire Okwalinga (TVO) to lawyer, Fred Muwema.
TVO accused Muwema of stage managing a raid at his law firm at the start of the presidential election petition in which former prime minister Amama Mbabazi challenged President Museveni’s election in the Supreme Court.
TVO claimed in numerous posts on his Facebook page in March that Mr Muwema had bagged shs900m from government delivered by former information minister Jim Muhwezi to betray his longtime client Mr Mbabazi by trading off delicate evidence for a penny. He later claimed Muwema was protected by officers of the army’s Special Forces Command (SFC). Both Mr Muhwezi and Muwema denied the claims, while government distanced itself from the raid on the latter’s office and those of Mr Mohmed Mbabazi who led the Mbabazi legal team in the petition.
Mr Muwema who has represented Mbabazi in other cases did not take part in the presidential election petition.
In the judgment delivered by the High Court in Ireland (record number 2016/ 4637P) by Mr Justice Binchy, in the case (Fred Muwema vs Facebook Ireland Limited) the court has ordered the firm to reveal the identity of Tom Voltaire Okwalinga to Mr Muwema who can then institute proceedings against him back in Uganda. He however rejected the lawyer’s request for Facebook to bring down the defamatory content posted against him, arguing that it had been widely circulated.
“There must be a doubt however about whether an internet service provider which disclaims any responsibility for or interest in the material complained about, is entitled to assert in defence of an application such as this, the right of freedom of expression of a party who has chosen to remain anonymous and remains at the time of the hearing of the application and beyond the jurisdiction of the court, and who in any event does not have a right to publish defamatory statements,” the court held last week.
Justice Binchy ruled, “Thus, it appears, a person who has been defamed by an internet posting may be left without any remedy at all, unless the author is identified and amenable to the jurisdiction of the court,” adding, “For these reasons I consider that the application for take down and prior restraint orders must be refused. I will however make a Norwich Pharmacal Order in the terms that I understand the parties have agreed.”
According to online sources a Norwich Pharmacal Order, “is a court order for disclosure of the documents or information that is available in the UK or Ireland. It is granted against a third party which has been innocently mixed up in wrong doing forcing the disclosure of document or information to assist the applicant bring legal proceedings against the individuals believed to have wronged them.”
Mr Muwema told Daily Monitor in an interview at his Kololo based offices this afternoon, “I am happy with the decision of the court and I am waiting for my lawyers to extract the order and for Facebook to comply with the same. I cannot comment any further than this as the matter is still in court.”
When contacted, Uganda Media Centre Executive Director, Ofwono Opondo, was excited by the ruling, saying, “If Muwema’s case went through it sets a good precedent because while we uphold the freedom of expression and now citizen journalism, in Uganda it has gone overboard. The judicial whip which the Irish court has evoked sets a landmark precedent even for our local courts here.”
The case is set to put Facebook on the spot as it sets a global precedent where people who are defamed can ask the company to reveal the particulars of the perpetrators, a battle Facebook has long fought with governments across the world, preferring to protect the safety and liberties of its users.