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Uganda24 February 2006

Net censorship reaches sub-Saharan Africa

Reporters Without Borders condemned filtering of a radio website imposed by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) on 16 February 2006 - the first such case of Internet censorship in Uganda.

The move came just days before voting in presidential and parliamentary elections on 23 February.

The Radio Katwe news website accepts contributions from Internet-users and posts content that is extremely critical of the government. Just before it was censored, it had attacked the accumulation of wealth by the family of President Yoweri Museveni.

“Blocking access to an online publication is an important decision, which should be taken only by a judge and then as a result of an independent judicial procedure“, the press freedom organisation said.

“It is not acceptable for an organ of government alone to decide on this kind of step. In any case, the managers of should have the opportunity to appeal against the UCC decision, which has not happened so far,” it added.

“It is the first time a news site has been filtered in Uganda, apart from a temporary block put on the site of the independent daily The Monitor during just one day, on 18 February. It is among the first cases of net censorship in Sub-Saharan Africa.

All the country’s Internet Service Providers (ISPs), MTN, UTL, Africaonline, Spacenet and Busnet have made the site inaccessible. UCC officials justified the decision, saying that Radio Katwe "was spreading rumours" and damaging the country’s “security and harmony”.

Local ISPs filtered the site by blocking its IP address (the identity number of its server that hosts it on the Internet). According to a test carried out by Nart Villeneuve, head of research at Toronto University, they at the same time blocked nearly 700 other sites hosted by the same server, which is based in the United States.

On its home page, Radio Katwe advises the use of tools such as guardster or proxify to get round the censorship imposed by the authorities. Reporters Without Borders has elsewhere published, in November 2005, a Handbook for Bloggers and Cyberdissidents, which gives practical advice on how to counter filtering.

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