A court in Ireland has rejected demands by Ugandan lawyer, Fred Muwema, to compel Facebook to reveal the identity of a blogger – Tom Voltaire Okwalinga (TVO) – saying the revelation will pose great risk to the life of TVO because of documented human rights violations in Uganda.
In a decision contained in a ruling resulting from a protracted court battle between Muwema and social media giant Facebook Inc, Justice Binchy, said: “… It is somewhat difficult for the court to make an assessment as to the extent of the danger that would be posed to TVO if his identity is revealed. It is fair to say, however, that there is consistency in the reports of Freedom House and US Department of State Human Rights Report on Uganda as well as Amnesty International all of which express concern about the freedom of expression and assembly.”
The ruling stems from a court case in which Muwema had sued Facebook demanding that the social media company reveals the identity of TVO so that he can open a case of defamation against him in Uganda.
In a Fecebook post TVO claimed that Muwema had connived with President Museveni’ s agents to steal documents that would have supported Amama Mbabazi’s election petition against Museveni.
Mr Mbabazi had claimed that the Feb 2016 election had irregularities and he would base on the evidence in his possession to ask court to nullify Museveni’s win.
The documents, including affidavits Amama’s camp claimed, had been stolen after a break-in in the offices of the petitioner’s lead lawyers, among them Mohamed Mbabazi’s chambers in Wendegeya, Kampala and Muwema’s in Kololo, Kampala.
In the post, TVO claimed that Muwema had been given Shs900m by then Information and National Guidance minister Jim Muhwezi to stage-manage the break-ins.
However, Justice Binchy directed TVO to voluntarily pull down the defamatory content 14 days from delivery of the judgment, failure of which Muwema would be given a chance to make a fresh application for court to reveal his identity.
“…TVO should be notified that unless the offending postings are removed within 14 days … then the plaintiff will be entitled to renew his application …,” the Judge ruled.
Earlier in a supplementary decision in July last year court had ordered Facebook to reveal the identity of TVO so that Muwema could sue him.
However Facebook protested the ruling on grounds that it would put TVO’s life in danger considering that documented demands by government through Uganda Communications Commission had requested that Facebook reveals the identity of the blogger with the view of prosecuting him.
In an affidavit Muwema said that whereas Uganda has challenges with human rights it was alarmist to paint a picture of unmitigated violations of human rights and lawlessness in the country.
But his argument was countered by an affidavit by Nicholas Opiyo, a human rights lawyer, which said that he knew for the fact that the Uganda police had been “looking for TVO for a very long time and when they arrest anyone on suspicion of being TVO, they are subjected to extreme abuse of rights and violation of court orders”.
Mr Muwema on Thursday said the ruling was a win-win since court had directed TVO to delete the defamatory posts against him, which court had initially rejected.