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Freedom of Opinion and Expression Online is a Human Right even with Disinformation in the Digital Age

According to the mandate established by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, a special rapporteur is expected to gather information relating to violations of the right on freedom of opinion and expression, threats or use of violence and perception or intimidation of people seeking to exercise or promote the right to FoOE. As an organization that promotes the right to FoOE, WOUGNET submitted a report to the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression with a focus on the issue of disinformation and freedom of opinion and expression to aid her upcoming report to the Human Rights Council, to be presented in June 2021. WOUGNET gave different examples of disinformation that were approved by investigative channels like PesaCheck, challenges raised by disinformation, examples of disinformation that happened during the general elections, policies, and regulations that are put in place to counteract disinformation and the dangers associated with these legal and regulatory frameworks. The report highlighted the rights of Ugandans that were violated in the quest to eradicate disinformation. This included a brutal arrest and treatment of journalists, closure of social media pages for those in support for the opposition parties especially the National Unity Platform (NUP), the total shut down of the internet during the 2021 general elections following the directive of the Uganda Communications Commission. This action prohibited people from accessing information which is a fundamental right as stipulated by article 41 of the constitution of Uganda. Internet shut down further hindered the freedom of opinion and expression which gives mandate to people to participate in all democratic processes and the mandate to enjoy further human rights in light of the international human rights and standards. In order to promote and protect the rights of freedom of expression and opinion in the 2026 elections, WOUGNET suggested some recommendations for the Special Rapporteur on how to protect and promote the right to freedom of opinion and expression while addressing disinformation. These included and not limited to the following; the government should educate and engage the public about how to discern fake news online and how-to fact-check, as opposed to using broad and vague criminal laws against the public as the only solution, Uganda should Repeal Section 171 of the Penal Code and promote societal resilience to disinformation by developing and implementing nationwide civic education and empowerment programs, alongside multi-stakeholder groups, including CSOs and media actors, Human rights defenders and activists should promote the implementation of the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression And “Fake News”, Disinformation and Propaganda which highlights that the human right to impart information and ideas is not limited to correct statements.

Image Courtesy of University of Rhode Island

Written by Nampiima Maria Gorret, Program Assistant; Information Sharing and Networking Program. 

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