Monday 23rd July 2018

Websites in Tanzania are shutting down as webmasters face at least 12 months imprisonment for publishing online content without a license

The new law is attempting to target what it refers to as 'indecent content' and 'hate speech.' Publishers face fines of up to $2,500, which is three times the salary of the average citizen of Tanzania.
Jason Smith
by on 16th June 2018
Tanzania flag

A new law that demands Tanzanian webmasters pay a $900 tax and apply for a license to publish online content has led many webmasters in the country to close their websites.

Independent webmasters operating websites must have applied for a license by Friday 15th June or face imprisonment or fines of up to $2,500. The potential fine is about three times the salary of the average Tanzanian citizen.

The new legislation (PDF), titled The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, 2018 and which came into force on Monday 11th June, is attempting to target online communications including what it refers to as “indecent content” and “hate speech.”

It defines indecent content as “any content which is offensive, morally improper and against current standards of accepted behavior, such as nudity and sex.”

It provides no further definition on what constitutes “accepted behaviour.”

It also states that “hate speech” is defined as “speech that refers to any portrayal by words, speech or pictures or otherwise, which denigrates, defames, or devalues a person or group on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.”

Aside from taxing citizens who own blogs, YouTube channels or other online media, the state has legislated that webmasters are also responsible for providing personal data of commentators posting to their websites.

According to Global Voices, one of the websites affected by what is colloquially referred to as the “blogger tax” is Jamii Forums, a popular web forum visited by 1.2 million people every month.

While a number of special interest groups petitioned a local court to have the new law overturned, the court dismissed their plea and proclaimed they had “failed to demonstrate how they would be affected by the regulations.”

The new legislation, which is enforced by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority, encompasses providers of services including social media, online forums, internet cafes, online radio and blogs.

It states that online content providers have obligations to “take into account trends and cultural sensitivities of the general public” and “ensure prohibited content is removed within twelve hours upon being notified.”

It also states that all online media producers and bloggers applying for a license must provide an address, certificate of incorporation, CVs of their staff and editorial policy guidelines. In other words, a webmaster must own a registered business in order to publish online.