Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the latest blow to free speech in Tanzania, a new law regulating online content under which bloggers now have to pay an exorbitant fee to register with the authorities.
Approved by the national assembly seven months ago and signed into law by the Information minister on 13 March, the “Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2018” gives the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) control over all online content.
Social media, online radio and TV stations, digital platforms and bloggers are all now required to register with the TCRA and buy a licence that must be renewed every three years. What with an annual tax and other expenses, it will now cost a blogger an average of 900 US dollars a year to keep a blog. “Where are bloggers and online platforms going to get the money to pay such high charges?” said Neville Meena of the Tanzania Editors Forum, who regards the law as a government attempt to “restrict access to information in Tanzania.”
“Content that leads to public disorder” and “content that may threaten national security” are punishable under the new law by at least 12 months in prison and a fine of 2,300 US dollars. And online platforms are required to bar anyone from posting anonymously or without being registered.
“This is going to kill bloggers in Tanzania,” said Mike Mushi, one of the cofounders of the Jamii Forums news platform. “Most will lose advertisers since they are not legally registered,” he told RSF.
“If the authorities had wanted to destroy Tanzania’s blogosphere, they couldn’t have found a better way to do it,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “Just creating an online platform now represents several months’ salary for a blogger. The government must amend this law, which will otherwise mean the end of online information.”
Last month, three Tanzanian human rights NGOs filed a complaint with the East Africa Court of Justice about Tanzania’s 2016 Media Services Act on the grounds that it violates
international conventions with free speech provisions ratified by the East African Community.
Jamii Forums, East Africa’s leading website for anonymous citizen journalists and whistleblowers, has been subjected to intense judicial harassment in recent months and one of its co-founders, Maxence Melo, was arrested under Tanzania’s Cybercrimes Act in December.
Tanzania is ranked 83rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.