On Thursday, the Ugandan parliament 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.
The tax for users of WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook is minimal, at 200 Ugandan shillings (five cents) a day, but adds up to about 18 dollars a year.
“As a government, we thought it would be good to impose taxes on some aspects of the social media,” deputy government spokesman Shaban Bantariza said. 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.”
It was not quite clear how the tax would be implemented, but 24 millions Ugandans about half 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. “This tax is detrimental to the enjoyment of freedom of expression,” said Livingstone Sewannyana, director of Uganda’s Foundation for Human Rights Initiative. “Its prohibitive. It shows the repressive nature of the state which is amassing as much revenue as it can to its advantage,” he added.
During the 2016 elections, social media networks were shut down because people were using them to communicate and mobilize anti-government demonstrations.