The Ugandan parliament on Thursday passed a law imposing a tax on people using mobile social media networks in an attempt to increase revenue, but rights groups have said 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 a year â€“ not a small amount of money in the impoverished East African country.
â€œAs a government, we thought it would be good to impose taxes on some aspects of the social media,â€ deputy government spokesman Shaban Bantariza told dpa Thursday, the day after parliament passed the law.
He added that â€œgovernment is installing infrastructure like WiFi in areas around the country and it will not do this without our contribution through taxesâ€.
It was not quite clear how the tax would be implemented, but 24 millions Ugandans â€“ about half the population â€“ 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.
â€œThis tax is detrimental to the enjoyment of freedom of expression,â€ said Livingstone Sewannyana, director of Ugandaâ€™s Foundation for Human Rights Initiative.
â€œIts prohibitive. It shows the repressive nature of the state which is amassing as much revenue as it can to its advantage,â€ he added.
During the 2016 elections, social media networks were shut down because people were using them to communicate and mobilide anti-government demonstrations. (dpa/NAN)