Uganda: Scrap social media tax curtailing freedom of expression

A tax on social media use in Uganda, which came into effect on 1 July, is a clear attempt to undermine the right to freedom of expression and must be scrapped, Amnesty International said today.

President Yoweri Museveni announcing the tax in March said it was aimed at platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Viber, to curtail “gossip”, a clear infringement on the right to freedom of expression.

“It is not the place of the Ugandan authorities to determine which discussions taking place on social media platforms are useful. Rather, it is their responsibility to uphold and nurture unfettered enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression, both online and offline,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

It is not the place of the Ugandan authorities to determine which discussions taking place on social media platforms are useful. Rather, it is their responsibility to uphold and nurture unfettered enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression, both online and offline
Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International's Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes

“Social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp have opened up cheaper avenues of communication and information sharing in Uganda. By making people pay for using these platforms, this tax will render these avenues of communication inaccessible for low income earners, robbing many people of their right to freedom of expression, with a chilling effect on other human rights. This is a clear attempt to silence dissent, in the guise of raising government revenues.”

Amnesty International urges the Ugandan authorities to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to freedom of expression without any encumbrances whether it is exercised offline, or online on social media platforms, as guaranteed in Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which Uganda has ratified.

 

Background

Uganda’s parliament in May 2018 passed a new tax targeting what was described as “gossip” on social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Viber in a bid to raise revenue for the government. The tax came into force on 1 July 2018.