Facebook has taken down a network in Uganda linked to the country’s ministry of information for using fake and duplicate accounts to post ahead of this week’s presidential election, the US social media giant said on Monday.
Ugandans vote on Thursday in a election pitting long-time leader Yoweri Museveni against ten candidates including opposition frontrunner Bobi Wine, a singer-turned-lawmaker whose star power has rattled the ruling party.
“We found this network to be linked to the Government Citizens Interaction Center at the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology in Uganda,” Facebook said.
“They used fake and duplicate accounts to manage pages, comment on other people’s content, impersonate users, re-share posts in groups to make them appear more popular than they were,” Facebook said in a statement.
Uganda’s government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said Facebook had acted in a high-handed manner.
“We are not familiar with anybody who complained about these accounts. The owners of these accounts are verified,” he said in BBC interview broadcast live on Facebook.
“It was unilaterally done. And so I think you can ask Facebook to give you more details of what the complaints were because we are not privy to them,” he said.
Minister of Information Judith Nabakooba told Reuters she needed more time to study the situation before commenting.
Scores of opposition protesters have been killed during a campaign scarred by crackdowns on Wine’s rallies which the authorities say contravene curbs on gatherings to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Opposition candidate Patrick Oboi Amuriat was arrested on Sunday outside Kampala. He was charged on Monday with traffic violations, released on bail and detained again by police as he returned to the capital, his aide, Ayub Kigongo, told Reuters.
“He has not been told why,” Kigongo said.
Amuriat is running for the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), which was the main opposition party at previous presidential elections under its former leader Kizza Besigye.
Amuriat has been detained multiple times during campaigning, mostly for violating coronavirus restrictions.
Campaigning has been banned in Kampala and ten other districts due to the pandemic, though opposition candidates say it was because they are more popular in those areas.
Opondo defended moves to shut down opposition gatherings saying COVID-19 was real and rivals should have challenged the rules when they came in, if they believed they were unfair.
“(The election is) going to be peaceful, it’s going to be fair, it’s going to be free, it’s going to be credible and Uganda’s going to be peaceful after that,” he said.
“Whoever disagrees with the outcome of the election, the courts of law are available to take your challenge there.”