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Museveni, UCC boss Mutabazi named in TVO Facebook saga

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The name of President Yoweri Museveni alongside his ‘cronies’ and Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) Executive Director Eng Godfrey Mutabazi have surfaced in correspondences in a case involving city lawyer Fred Muwema and social media ‘faceless man’ Tom Voltaire Okwalinga (TVO).

Before the presidential elections of February 18 this year TVO, a social media geek critical of government who posts on Facebook, accused counsel Muwema of conniving with Major General Jim Muhwezi, the then Minister of Information and National Guidance, to thwart former Go Forward presidential candidate John Patrick Amama Mbabazi’s election petition, after allegedly receiving Shs900m from the General.

According to TVO, Muwema stage-managed a break-in into his offices in Kololo, from where evidence including sworn affidavits were reportedly stolen, throwing Mbabazi’s petition into jeopardy.

Muwema responded by reaching out to Facebook, seeking the multi-billion US giant to among other issues restrain TVO from publishing content about him and also to ‘unveil’ TVO by disclosing his identity. That did not happen, and Muwema sought the intervention of court to have his matter resolved, the culmination of which is a seemingly long and protracted court case that has now drawn in the government of Uganda and the UCC ED Mutabazi, who reportedly told Facebook that TVO was an enemy of the government who should be reined in.

And Muwema’s case, filed in Ireland by a blue chip US law firm was moving on smoothly and had also earned the prominent city lawyer a remedy in the form of a Norwich Pharmacal Order issued by Irish judge Justice Binchy on August 22, than Facebook threw a spanner in the wheels: Facebook Head of Public Policy for Africa Ms Ebele Okobi, raised a red flag; she indicated to company lawyers Mason Hayes and Curran that TVO faced a threat to his life if Facebook released any information about ‘him’.

A Norwich Pharmacal Order is a court order for disclosure of information issued against a third party that gets in the way of legally wrong actions.

‘In February 2015, Godfrey Mutabazi, the Executive Director of Uganda Communications Commission directed a number of requests to Facebook to take down content on TVO’s page that included details of a charge of corruption leveled at Mutabazi himself, and to disclose information that would identify TVO. When Facebook refused the requests, Mr Mutabazi attempted to call Facebook before Uganda’s parliament to compel Facebook to produce information to facilitate the arrest of the person or persons behind the account,’ additional affidavit evidence addressed to the presiding Judge, Justice Binchy, states in part.

It adds: ‘As a result of these conversations, including a number of phone conversations with Mr Mutabazi and Ms Okobi, during which Mr Mutabazi argued that TVO was a threat to the Ugandan government and must be turned over and stopped, Facebook was made aware of the government’s interest in arresting TVO.’

To buttress the point that TVO faced a threat to his life, the Facebook lawyers cited a number of reports implicating the government of Uganda in human abuses.

‘I understand that President Yoweri Museveni and his party have held ruled Uganda since 1986 having won the 2011 and 2016 presidential elections. There have been widely reported complaints that these elections were not fair and transparent…Freedom House in its 2015 report ranked Uganda as ‘not fair’ due to increased violations of human rights and infringement on the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association,’ Jack Gilbert of law firm Hayes Murray and Curran writes.

Further, he also refers to a US State Department Human Rights Report, which he said, had pinned Uganda on a raft of transgressions including the ‘lack of integrity of the person’ including ‘unlawful killings, torture, restrictions on civil liberties and violence and discrimination against marginalized groups.

‘The report confirms the existence of credible reports that security forces tortured and beat suspects and the use of excessive force and torture during arrests and other law enforcement operations resulted in causalities,’ the seven-page August 19 affidavit titled ‘Fred Muwema v Facebook Ireland Limited: The High Court Record No. 2016/4637P,’ further states in part.

According to Gilbert, the Lead Litigation Counsel for Facebook covering Asia, the Middle East and Africa (AMEA) and Asia Pacific (APAC) regions, by Justice Binchy granting the orders, TVO would face a threat to life.

‘I believe the revelation of the identity would place the life and freedom of that person in jeopardy,’ Gilbert wrote in the affidavit that was belatedly filed.

The ‘Fred Muwema v Facebook Ireland Limited’, which was instituted against the Africa bureau of Facebook, was referred to an Irish court because the company’s Africa operations are handled in Ireland.

In the plaint Muwema’s lawyers sought three prayers: that Facebook bring down all content, ‘defamatory, malicious and false’ against their client by TVO; to stop TVO from posting content about Muwema; and to reveal TVO’s identity so the lawyer can legally take on him in Uganda.

By press time EagleOnline was unable to reach the concerned parties for comment.

Facebook, the world’s biggest social media platform is worth billions of dollars and legal experts have intimated that should counsel Muwema win the case, he stands to be paid close to US$10 million in damages.

According to court documents, Muwema lost the first two grounds but won the last which, according to legal experts, is the gist of the case that has got the Facebook lawyers rushing to court with ‘additional affidavit evidence’ that also brought President Museveni’s government and the UCC’s Mutabazi to the fore.

“It sets a bad precedent that will see many Africans and may be, even governments, sue the giant American social media platform,” the legal expert noted.







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