Uganda bans texting of key words during polls

2011-02-18 11:22

Kampala – Uganda’s telecoms body said it had given orders to block all potentially explosive text messages on voting day today, including ones that contain the words “Tunisia” or “Egypt”.

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) this week directed all mobile phone providers to “stop” or “block” any text message that might “incite the public”, and provided companies a list of key words to watch out for.

“Tunisia”, “Egypt”, “Mubarak”, “Dictator”, “Tear gas” and “People Power” all made the list, which was leaked to the media by the country’s main opposition coalition.

The list’s authenticity was confirmed by UCC spokesman Paul Mwesigwa.

“We advised (telecoms companies) to monitor all messages containing these words,” said Mwesigwa.

Top opposition candidate Kizza Besigye has warned that Uganda was ripe for an Egypt-style anti-government uprising, but President Yoweri Museveni, expected to win today’s vote, ruled out the possibility.

Rounding out the 13-term SMS watchlist are “gun/bullet” and “Ben Ali”, a reference to Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the former Tunisian strongman ousted last month in a popular revolt, like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

Mwesigwa admitted that the UCC “doesn’t really have the capacity to screen messages”, but he added: “We hope these private companies do.”

Evidence suggests that the screening system is not yet operational, as one AFP journalist today successfully transmitted the following message to a colleague: “Egypt. Mubarak. Dictator. Tunisia.”

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