Uganda Buys A ‘Pornography Detection Machine’ To Catch Offenders, Official Says

It's the latest bizarre and troubling step in the country's crackdown on explicit content.
A man reads the website of Ugandan newspaper New Vision, which reported this week on the country's new porn detection machine.
A man reads the website of Ugandan newspaper New Vision, which reported this week on the country's new porn detection machine.
Eye Ubiquitous/UIG via Getty Images

Uganda has bought a “pornography detection machine” as part of its crackdown on explicit content, the country’s controversial ethics and integrity minister announced Tuesday.

Simon Lokodo said the new detection machine will scan mobile phones and other electronic devices for pornographic images, videos and graphics, allowing his anti-pornography committee to track and prosecute offenders.

It is illegal to produce, publish or share many forms of graphic content in Uganda, and offenders can be fined or imprisoned for up to 10 years.

The government purchased the machine from a South Korean company for the price of 300 million Ugandan shillings (around $88,000), Lokodo told Ugandan state-owned newspaper New Vision. It will arrive in the country soon.

The ethics minister offered few other details about the machine and how it works. Uganda’s embassy in the U.S. did not respond to a request for clarification.

But Lokodo has been talking about a so-called porn detector since at least April, when he announced a 2.6 billion Ugandan shilling budget (about $770,000) for pornography detection software. He pointed to the “success” of China, South Korea and Rwanda in blocking their citizens’ access to such content.

The plan drew outrage and ridicule in April and again this week, with many Ugandans pointing out on social media that it would be more ethical to spend the money replacing the country’s only radiotherapy machine, which is not functional.

Lokodo, a former Catholic priest, is known for spearheading Uganda’s draconian laws criminalizing homosexuality. He came to international attention when he threatened to arrest gay British comedian Stephen Fry during a tense 2014 interview, which Fry later said left him feeling suicidal.

Also that year, Uganda passed a wide-ranging anti-pornography law. Lokoda suggested that a ban on mini skirts fell under the law’s broad sweep. Women should “dress decently,” he said, because “men are so weak that if they saw an indecently dressed woman, they would just jump on her.”

A wave of street violence followed as groups of men, claiming they were upholding the law, stripped and beat women who wore short skirts.

In April of this year, the government clarified that the anti-pornography law does not ban wearing short skirts, but that it does bar broadcasting explicit images and “vulgar” speech. Ugandan human rights groups say that remains a dangerously broad definition, allowing the government to suppress free speech. They have filed a legal challenge to the law.

“The anti-pornography act is, in large part, an anti-publishing law,” Nicholas Opiyo, director of Ugandan civil liberties group Chapter Four, told The WorldPost.

The law gives the government “undefined powers for disruption of communication and defines pornography in such a way as to cover all sorts of things, such as public performances, arts and drama,” Opiyo warned.

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