Govt hunting for social media users who declared Speaker Oulanyah dead

Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • Ms Among alongside the Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, the Minister of Health Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Democratic Party president Mr Nobert Mao and some family members of Oulanyah traveled to the US on Tuesday to check on him.

The government is looking for social media users who, early this week, declared Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah dead.
Mr Oulanyah was on February 4 flown to a hospital in Seattle in the United States of America to receive specialized treatment after spending several days at Mulago National Referral Hospital. The government did not give details about his stay in the US but information from some officials, including the deputy speaker, Ms Anita Among, later indicated that the Speaker “receiving and responding to treatment” and needed prayers for his healing.

Ms Among alongside the Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, the Minister of Health Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the Democratic Party president Mr Nobert Mao and some family members of Oulanyah traveled to the US on Tuesday to check on him.
After information about their trip went viral, several social media users started speculating about the Speaker’s health, with some declaring him dead.

Ms Among yesterday tweeted saying the Speaker “…is receiving and responding to treatment under the close attention of his doctors. Let us keep him in prayers for a speedy and complete recovery. I urge the public to respect his privacy and that of the family.”
Speaking at the Uganda Media Center, the Minister for ICT and National Guidance, Mr Chris Baryomunsi said Friday that the government was looking for people who abuse others on the internet and falsely declare them dead. The minister says they are working with the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) to find the responsible people and once they get them, they shall subject them to the law.   
“There are those who communicate offensively like declaring somebody dead some cases which we take up as government. We are now hunting down the originators of the messages which have been circulating. Through UCC, we can trace back to the person who originated the messages,” he said.
Government plans to charge the said people under the Computer Misuse Act of 2011. The Act provides for 13 offences which include cyberstalking, electronic fraud, unauthorized disclosure of access code and unauthorized access.
Others include cyber-harassment and Offensive Communication which, Mr Baryomunsi highlighted as the ones commonly committed against government officials.
According to the Act, a person convicted for cyber harassment can be sentenced to a fine not exceeding Shs1.22 million (seventy-two currency points) or imprisonment not exceeding three years or both.

Those found guilty of willfully and repeatedly using electronic communication like computers to disturb or attempts to disturb the peace of any person can be fined at most Shs480,000 (twenty-four currency points) or imprisonment not exceeding one year or both.
Mr Baryomunsi reminded Ugandans that freedom of expression comes with responsibilities that media users should respect. He urged Ugandans to report people who offend them using online platforms.  

"The government liberalised the media space and we believe in freedom of expression but again we want to remind ourselves that freedom of expression goes with responsibilities. We should use all these platforms of communication responsibly. We condemn all those who use social media to communicate offensively, insult others and to communicate indecently. There are laws that guide us on communication, for instance, the Computer misuse Act which provides for offences such as cyber harassment and offensive communication. Of late we see many people announcing others dead through social media and yet our culture, our tradition and ethos as Ugandans is that when someone is sick we should pray for that person," he added. 

Ms Dorothy Mukasa, a digital rights activist with Unwanted Witness Uganda says that indeed online rights come with responsibilities but added that free speech should not be interpreted to mean that government officials only hear what they want to listen to since democracy calls for divergent views.
Ms Mukasa also observes that in Uganda, spaces for dialogue and mutual communication between the government and the locals have been closed off making interaction difficult. She explains that when information flow between the government and the public is not smooth, it creates a gap that gives room to speculation.

"You remember when the Speaker was taken out of the country for treatment, there was no information whatsoever. This is a public official for heaven's sake, and Ugandans have a right to know what is happening with the public officials. Falling sick is normal, everyone falls sick but we need information that comes in, instant communication to avoid speculation. Failure to provide information breeds misinformation which people share on social media where people can freely give their news," she argues. 
  However, Minister Baryomunsi says that the failure or delay by the government to share some information doesn't justify speculation and declaring people dead.

He referred to the act as simply bad manners that people should stop. Mr Baryomunsi, however, agreed that there is a need for government to provide information to the public promptly.  
Recently, novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija was arrested and charged for offensive communication after he allegedly published messages on his social media platform which offended President Museveni and his son Lt Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba.   
Several Ugandans, including human rights activists and lawyers, have in the past been arrested and prosecuted under the law. 


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