Uganda’s President Bans Social Media, Takes Lead As Opposition Candidate Is Arrested On Election Day

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Uganda’s opposition leader was briefly arrested as the country wrapped up voting in a presidential election his supporters claim was rigged in favour of long-time leader Yoweri Museveni.

President Yoweri Museveni seen speaking at the U.N. in 2014, he has ruled Uganda since 1986
President Yoweri Museveni seen speaking at the U.N. in 2014, he has ruled Uganda since 1986

Prior to the commencement of the Ugandan Presidential elections, news broke that President Museveni shut down all social media in the country.

According to social analysts, the move was largely seen to be an attempt to stymie any opposition to his electoral victory.

Ugandans voted on Thursday, February 18, on the fate of President Museveni, who is hoping for a fifth term after ruling the nation for the last 30 years.

The start of the election was delayed in some polling stations because of what the electoral commission said was a shortage of election materials. The Commonwealth observer mission’s leader, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, called the delays “inexcusable.”

Elections closed at 6 a.m. ET, with results expected on Friday, February 19.

Al Jazeera witnessed police detaining Kizza Besigye, the main opposition candidate, as he and his supporters tried to show journalists what they said was a vote-rigging operation in a suburban house.

It was gathered that the day began with many politically-minded voters unable to tweet or update their Facebook pages following a government ban on social media.

After casting his vote at his home in western Uganda, Museveni defended the ban as a “security measure to avert lies … intended to incite violence and illegal declaration of election results,” CNN reported.

“The Ugandan government’s decision to block access to social media on mobile phones on election day is a blatant violation of Ugandans’ fundamental rights to freedom of expression and to seek and receive information,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director.

“Without clearly defined security concerns, this closure is nothing but an exercise in censorship as Ugandans elect their leaders.”

Museveni, a former rebel who seized power in 1986, is widely expected to win a fifth term, which would extend his power into a fourth decade.

Elections in 2006 and 2011 were marred by violent and occasional deadly street protests and a liberal use of tear gas by heavy-handed police.

But apart from an outbreak of protests when police prevented Besigye from campaigning in the centre of Kampala, campaigning was mostly peaceful.

“Whoever will try to bring violence, you will see what we shall do to him. Those who want violence should play somewhere else, not Uganda,” Museveni told thousands of supporters in his final rally on Tuesday.



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