The arrest of Jamilu Ssekyondwa on Saturday, a resident of Luweero district after he allegedly circulated fake news claiming that President Museveni had died has kicked off what will likely be a series of arrests. CID police spokesperson Charles Twiine says the hunt is on for more people who shared the fake news pronouncing the head of state dead in the past weeks.
Twiine says two more people have been arrested in addition to Ssekyondwa, for sharing the message he had crafted. Twiine declined to reveal their names when asked by URN. He said Ssekyondwa’s file is being worked on and he will be produced in court very soon.
Police’s hunt of suspects is likely to be hampered by difficulties of investigating digital crimes: for instance unmasking many faces behind pseudo social media accounts, people using Virtual Private Networks are hard to nab, as is extraditing fake news purveyors such as vlogger Fred Lumbuye.
But Twiine says police have built capacity in cyber investigation that will be put to use when locating fake news purveyors. The investigation will be carried out with support of Uganda Communications Commission-UCC.
This isn’t the first arrest. Chris Nabugere, a Ugandan on Twitter was on July 2nd briefly kidnapped by what he later described as armed men driving in a drone for allegedly tweeting fake news of Museveni’s death.
“The group of about 9 men who were masked beat us up with the back of gun butts while one was using a screwdriver trying to pierce my friend,” Nabugere tweeted after release.
A tweet by his sister Phoebe Rita Nabugere which went viral shortly after the abduction got him released hours later. The family was able to quickly get in touch with Brig Chris Sserunjogi Ddamulira, the head of the Crime Intelligence Directorate who ordered his release. “With the help of General Ddamulira, all the officers who participated in the act in the drone using registration number UBG 454B have been apprehended,” she said.
Arrests began after Museveni last week called for apprehension of those declaring him dead. But human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo says arrests should not be the only way of dealing with fake news. “Instead of arresting and trying to prosecute people for making fun of a leader, a leader should take heart and in my view should just have said ‘I am not dead, I am here’ instead of taking radical measures,” he told URN. Citizens, Opiyo says have the right to lampoon and make fun of their leaders.
It has been common for high profile Ugandans to be declared dead on social media when they are alive. For instance, Kabaka of Buganda Ronalda Muwenda Mutebi, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago and former Electoral Commission Chairperson Dr. Badru Kiggundu have all been declared dead in recent months. There were no arrests in such incidents. However, Twiine insists that some people were arrested for declaring Kabaka dead. But he does not say if they were produced in court or whether they are still in detention.
Twiine told URN that for police to take action, there must be a complainant. For instance, if Mayor Lukwago asks them to arrest those who declared him dead, Twiine says police can take action.
Rumours originate out of Uganda
Both Museveni and Twiine have hinted that rumours that were circulating on social media could have originated from out of Uganda thus making the likes of Fred Lumbuye a key target.
“It’s a scheme for some people who are actually outside that are trying to create grounds for getting political asylum,” he said. “The different jurisdictions have been notified by police management and through diplomatic channels that if they are to give them asylum, it should be on other grounds not that we are politically persecuting them.”
Lumbuye has morphed into a troublesome purveyor of fake news of all sorts, making outrageous and bogus claims. As fake news started spreading of Museveni’s death, Lumbuye in a video posted on his YouTube channel on July 2nd claimed that Museveni ordered his family that once he is dead, he should not be publicly declared dead until after one year. Such are the arguments he was giving to his viewers to believe that the president is indeed dead. He also claimed former four times presidential candidate Dr Kizza Besigye is among people who met First Lady Janet Museveni to plan life without Museveni.