Thursday 19 October 2017

Blogger who claimed lawyer accepted bribes ordered to remove 'defamatory posts' from Facebook

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)

Tim Healy

A BLOGGER will have to remove defamatory posts from his Facebook page within two weeks or a new application can be made to have his or her location and identity revealed, the High Court ruled.

A Ugandan lawyer wants to sue the blogger and sought a court order seeking the identity be revealed by Facebook Ireland, which provides its social media service to all users outside of the the US and Canada.

Facebook opposed Fred Muwema's application after raising concerns about human rights abuses by the Ugandan State.

Mr Muwema asked the court to order Facebook to reveal the location and identity of the blogger who goes under the pseudonym TVO (Tom Voltaire Okwalinga). TVO, who has 80,000 followers, posted material alleging Mr Muwema had accepted bribes.

Mr Justice Donald Binchy said last month he could not "in conscience" order the identity be revealed given that TVO could be arrested and subject to ill-treatment by the Ugandan authorities.  He adjourned the matter to consider it further.

In his judgment on Wednesday, Mr Justice Binchy said he was refusing the application on condition that Facebook notify TVO that unless the offending postings are removed within 14 days, Mr Muwema would be entitled to renew his application to have the identity revealed.

The judge said a person's right to a good name must take second place to the right to life and bodily integrity of another.

Earlier, the judge said it was 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 was revealed. 

However,  it was fair to say there was a consistency in reports from civil liberties group Freedom House, from the US Department of State Human Rights report on Uganda and from Amnesty International, he said. All express concern about violations of the rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association (in Uganda), he said.

The US State Department report refers numerous reports of torture and abuses in police detention facilities, the judge said.  Security forces assaulted, harassed and intimidated journalists, he said.

An affidavit from Nicholas Opiyo an executive director of human rights organisation, Chapter Four Uganda,  stated that if TVO's identity is disclosed, TVO was likely to suffer torture, cruel and inhumane treatment at the hands of Uganda's security agents.

Mr Opiyo also said that in the past the Ugandan criminal justice system was used to abuse the rights of the people critical of the State.

The judge said he had to have due consideration to the fact he had already found the postings were defamatory. 

If TVO's identity was not revealed, Mr Muwema was left without any relief to vindicate his name.

What was at issue was the weighing of the right to vindication of good name and the right to life and bodily integrity of TVO.

Previous judgments clearly recognised that freedom of expression would have to give way to right to life in such a conflict.  The same must be said where it's a matter of right to a good name and right to life.

He was therefore refusing the order the identity be revealed, at this stage.

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