The Ugandan parliament has passed a law imposing a tax on people using mobile social media networks in an attempt to increase revenue, but rights groups say the levy is actually aimed at silencing dissent.
Users will be charged 200 shillings ($0.0531) per day for services such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. That amounts to around $19 per year in a country where gross domestic product per capita was around $615 in 2016, according to World Bank figures.
“As a government, we thought it would be good to impose taxes on some aspects of the social media,” deputy government spokesman Shaban Bantariza told the German news agency dpa Thursday, the day after parliament passed the law.
He added that “government is installing infrastructure like WiFi in areas around the country and it will not do this without our contribution through taxes.”
A junior finance minister previously told journalists the tax would be levied daily by mobile phone operators on each SIM card used to access any of the targeted social media platforms.
About 20 million Ugandans – about half of the population – have access to the internet, according to the Uganda Communications Commission, mostly through mobile phones.
However, human rights groups expressed concern over the move, which reportedly came about after long-time leader Yoweri Museveni said social media helped spread gossip.
“It (tax) is a new tool of stifling free expression and citizen organising that has been beyond the control of the state,” said Nicholas Opiyo, a Kampala-based lawyer who also heads a local rights organisation.
“It’s intended to curtail the ever increasing central role of social media in political organising,” he said. During the 2016 elections, social media networks were shut down because people were using them to communicate and mobilize anti-government demonstrations.
Adira Kallo with agency reports