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UGANDA: Court Challenge For Government Internet Tax

By Published July 02, 2018

Its official, the Ugandan government has introduced a social media tax on people that sees users of sites including WhatsApp, Facebook and twitter pay to use the services.

Expectedly, Ugandans and free speech advocates have condemned the move, calling it an attempt to sensor free speech.

A group of five concerned Ugandans have indeed taken the challenge of the tax to the Constitutional Court, the group argue that the tax not only violates fundamental freedoms of expression and association but it is also a form of double taxation, in violation of a cardinal principle of taxation.

The Uganda Communications Commission's Executive Director, Godfrey Mutabazi remain defiant when he announced that that the social media tax was here to stay and the only modifications to be made will be how it is charged.

Mutabazi, who was speaking after a meeting with stakeholders, also announced that they are going to prohibit the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) which enables users access social media anonymously to avoid paying the daily 200 shillings social media

President Museveni had reportedly complained about online gossip in a letter, which encouraged the country's finance minister to come up with the tax to address what was called ‘the consequences of social media’.

Users in the county are required to pay a daily tax of 200 Ugandan shillings, roughly 4p, in order to access social media - in addition to data fees.

Telecommunications service providers issued a joint statement explaining that the tax would be charged on "over the top services" including Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter.

Ladislaus Rwakafuuzi, a prominent human rights lawyer in Uganda, said that people in the country were "bitter" with the tax, which "was brought in bad faith".

"The reasons for it were anti-people, were anti-social, not development-oriented," Rwakafuuzi said.

The government said it hoped to collect 400bn Ugandan shillings over the course of the financial year through the tax from estimated 40% of the population being active internet users.

Uganda is not the only African country to have implemented financial costs for web users. In Tanzania, government passed rules making it mandatory for bloggers and administrators of web forums like YouTube channels to register with the regulator by paying $900 for the privilege.

People accessing social media services with a mobile phone in Uganda are charged in what the country's finance minister described as a good way to "maintain the security of the country".

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