Tanzania government wins court case to impose online regulations

DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzania’s government won a court case on Tuesday against bloggers and activists who sought to block the enforcement of tough, new online content regulations that require them to be registered and declare their financial backers.

FILE PHOTO: Tanzanian President John Magufuli during a visit to Nairobi, Kenya, October 31, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya/File Photo

Earlier this month, six human rights watchdogs, media organizations and bloggers successfully applied for a temporary court injunction against the rules.

But the government overturned that injection at an appeal hearing on Tuesday in a case that activists have condemned as an attack on free speech.

“Following this ruling ... owners of social media platforms that are used to disseminate news such as blogs, online TV and radio are required to continue with the registration process and observe ethics outlined in the relevant regulations,” government spokesman Hassan Abbasi said in a statement.

The new rules require bloggers to pay a registration and license fee of up to $900 and disclose details of shareholders, share capital, citizenship of owners, staff qualification and training programs, as well as a tax clearance certificate to obtain an operating license from the regulator.

Bloggers convicted of defying the new rules could be fined at least 5 million shillings ($2,200) or face imprisonment for a minimum 12 months, or both.

Digital activists say the rules are the latest crackdown on dissent and free speech by President John Magufuli, who was elected in 2015 on pledges to speed up economic growth and rein in corruption.

Several Tanzanian bloggers have already begun shutting down their websites to avoid punitive action under the new regulations.

The number of internet users in Tanzania rose 16 percent in 2017 to 23 million - around 44 percent of the population - with most using their smartphones to go online.

Last month, Uganda, another East African country acting to regulate internet use, announced plans to slap a new tax on social media users.

Editing by Aaron Maasho and Alison Williams