In a fresh turn of events, Ugandan Parliament today passed a law to impose tax on those who use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp stating that such apps promote gossiping. Notably, this bill was first introduced in April 2017 after country’s President Yoweri Museveni, wrote a letter to the treasury claiming that the social media encouraged gossip that was costing Uganda time and income.

According to a report, the tax will come into effect on June 1, 2018, imposing approx $0.05 levy per day on those who use social media platforms, but it is still unclear how it will be enforced. A report further suggests that as much as 17 million people in Uganda use the internet on day to day basis. According to the BBC, at least one internet service provider has doubts about the law’s enforcement.

Speaking to media, Finance minister David Bahati said the aim of the legislation was only to raise revenue for public services. Notably, the government is facing immense criticism from various media journalist and organization. Journalist and activist Lydia Namubiru said Museveni saw online communication as a threat to his 32-year rule. “The president … said it was to stop young people from gossiping but what’s ironic about that statement is that it comes after [popular musician] Bobi Wine became a member of parliament through an online campaign,” said Namubiru. She was referring to an opposition politician who has proved wildly popular with Uganda’s frustrated youth.

“It’s actually political speech and online organising which has real-life implications for him and his power. The overarching intention is to stifle free speech, especially now there is evidence that online organisation works,” Namubiru added.

On a closer look, in 2016 presidential election access to social media platforms was shut down by the authorities and in April 2017, country’s communications regulator instructed internet service providers to suspend unlicensed online news websites.

According to a report, the new law also includes a new tax of 1% on mobile money transactions. Outraged by the move, Kiiza, the opposition leader in parliament, said, “Only 5 million Ugandans countrywide can access the banking sector leaving the rest to mobile money services”.

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Deepti Jain