July 3, 2018 / 12:38 PM / in 5 months

Ugandan groups file court challenge against social media tax

FILE PHOTO: Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni attends the 30th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and the Government of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia January 28, 2018. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo

KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda’s new tax on social media access limits basic rights and harms business, according to a petition filed by activists to the constitutional court against a levy that civic groups and opposition parties say is onerous.

Ugandans pay 200 shillings ($0.0517) per day to access Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, YouTube, Skype and other phone apps under the tax introduced on Sunday. The government says the revenue will help fund energy, transport and other projects.

The tax is unconstitutional, according to Daniel Bill Opio, a lawyer who filed the petition with the Kampala-based Cyber Law Initiative non-profit and others.

“Youths are taking on initiatives toward innovation and technology mostly using these ... platforms,” he said. “Once you introduce a tax ... you are actually killing this budding entrepreneurship.”

Amnesty International called on the government on Monday to scrap the tax and said it was an attempt to smother dissent disguised as a measure to raise revenue.

Others have denounced the tax on Twitter using the hashtag #ThisTaxMustGo. Opposition parties and other critics say President Yoweri Museveni’s government imposes onerous taxes to fund wasteful spending while failing to stem corruption.

Facebook and South Africa’s MTN both declined to comment on the tax. A spokesman for Google did not respond to an email requesting comment.

The court received the petition on Monday and no hearing date has been set, said judiciary spokesman Solomon Muyita. Uganda’s courts are clogged and a suit can take years before a verdict.

Editing by Maggie Fick and Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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