Internet shutdown facilitated free and fair election – Museveni

Over The Top (OTT) tax
A woman in Kampala scrolls through her WhatsApp messages.

Kampala, Uganda | URN | President Yoweri Museveni has defended his government’s decision to shut down the internet, days before the January 14 general election.

This is in an affidavit filed in response to a petition by Kyagulanyi Robert Ssentamu, his main challenger in the just concluded elections.

In his petition filed on Monday 1, February 2021, Kyagulanyi said Museveni was declared winner fraudulently after the Electoral Commission [EC], Museveni himself and the Attorney General engaged in acts that offended the laws governing elections in Uganda. 

The total shutdown of the internet, that took at least five days, is one of the grounds on which Kyagulanyi wants Museveni’s victory annulled. He said that the internet shutdown which persists for Social Media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram among others, not only denied Ugandans their right to communication and association, but also crippled his ability to gather and transmit Declaration of Results Forms from his agents across the country.

Today, Museveni’s lawyers of K&K Advocates and Byenkya, Kihika & Co. Advocates filed their response to a presidential petition by Kyagulanyi seeking to overturn the victory of Museveni who was declared president-elect by the Electoral Commission [EC] on January 16.

Museveni, the candidate for the National Resistance Movement [NRM] said that it was important to shut down the internet because some people were hell-bent at using it to destabilize the country.

He adds that internet shutdown did not affect any freedom and fairness during the election as it didn’t curtail the free flow of information to the electorate.

“I know the internet was shut down on January 13, 2021, after official campaigns had closed. I also know that this was necessary to curb the continued spread of false news and incitement to violence to ensure a peaceful polling day,” Museveni’s affidavit reads. 

Museveni also denies any claims that the Electoral Commission [EC] falsified results in his favour. He says even if there were some discrepancies in the voter’s register, they would not make the presidential results false.

Museveni also denies ever ordering any security personnel to arrest, harass or intimidate Kyagulanyi or his supporters or agents across the country as was alleged. 

“I have no knowledge of any discrimination against the petitioner or any of his supporters nor any subjection of the petitioner to violence and persecution.

The petitioner’s statement is false…I have not been accorded any preferential treatment by the Electoral Commission [EC], public servants or members of the UPF and UPDF as alleged,” Museveni’s affidavit reads further.

Museveni adds that it’s wrong to attribute actions of some state actors like the Police and the UPDF to him. He says most of the things, that he denies if they happened, never did so with his approval, direction or consent.

He, however, maintains that the riots that broke out in November last year after Kyagulanyi’s arrest were premeditated with a central command, control and coordination. 

“These riots were characterized by setting up of roadblocks, burning of tires, destruction of buildings and property, looting, extortion, attacks on security personnel, undressing and harassing members of the public creating a general apprehension that necessitated the intervention of the security forces to restore law and order,” Museveni says. 

He adds that in his capacity as President, he directed that investigations be carried out to establish the exact circumstances of the death of all the 54 people and to establish if any security personnel acted illegally.

Just like the Electoral Commission [EC] and the Attorney General who are the second and third respondents respectively, Museveni too wants Kyagulanyi’s petition to be dismissed beforehand with costs for filing it out of the legally acceptable 15 days after the declaration of presidential results.

Next week, the Supreme Court which has the original jurisdiction over presidential petitions is expected to hold a conferencing session for the parties to agree on the issues that will be determined by the court.

The case will be heard from the parking lot of the Supreme Court where currently mega tents are being erected as a means to control the spread of COVID-19.