Back to top

Cybercontrol, taxes and obscenity

Kenya (3rd quartile) passed the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act 2018 in May, which was theoretically intended to protect consumers from cybercrime and protect the confidentiality and integrity of computer systems and data. The law, however, may erode internet freedoms, constitutional rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and access to information.[1] Under the law, anyone found guilty of publishing false, misleading, or fictitious information will now be charged a maximum fine of 5 million Kenyan shillings (nearly $50 thousand USD), imprisoned for at least two years, or both.

In Uganda, the Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill 2018 was passed, imposing a daily tax on social media users in the country because, according to President Yoweri Museveni, the platforms are used to ‘spread gossip’.[2] Many took to the streets to protest and were met with tear gas and rubber bullets.[3] Three journalists covering the demonstrations were detained for ‘covering an unlawful assembly without police permission’. At the police station, they were pressed to surrender their recorded material and reveal the identities of the protest’s organisers; they declined to do so.[4]

Tanzania’s Electronic and Postal Communications (Online) Regulations 2018 came into effect in May, following a similar trend in choking online speech through heavy administrative requirements and enabling removal of online content without checks or due process.

South Africa increased its internet-censorship capacities in an amendment to the Films and Publications Act, despite civil society concerns.[5] The amendment provides the Films and Publications Board with a mandate to scrutinise and order censorship of online material, including user-generated material, as well as categorising online platforms like YouTube as ‘content distributors’ and require them to pay an annual fee. It also allows for the possible blocking of non-compliant distributors at the level of the Internet Service Provider. One of the contentious clauses in the Bill imposes excessive criminal sanctions on journalists and members of the public who want to photograph or protest ‘national key points’ – government buildings and properties with increased protection status, of which there are currently over 200 across the country.[6]

The authorities in Benin had planned a similar tax, but ceded to pressure from an online campaign, #TaxePasMesMo, which extended to a peaceful sit-in.[7]

On 31 May, authorities in Zambia (3rd quartile) announced the government was planning laws to combat cybercrimes and social media crimes, suggesting the new law would require all WhatsApp group administrators in the country to register their groups and establish codes of ethics.[8]

Mozambique (2nd quartile) introduced a new system of accreditation that will limit the ability of reporters to work in the country because the fees are enormously high: more than $2,000 (USD) per trip for foreign correspondents, and $500 (USD) per year for locally based freelance journalists.[9]

Tanzania managed to gain a legal monopoly on statistical truths in 2018 with a legal amendment, while Rwanda (4th quartile) introduced a troubling new criminal offence into its penal code to restrict and control discussion around the 1994 genocide. Rwanda’s government used excessively broad and repressive criminal laws to silence genuine discussion of the genocide, which, instead of targeting discrimination, are likely to silence victims of the genocide and discrimination.[10]

The Expression Agenda Report 17/18 reported that Uganda’s Dr Stella Nyanzi – feminist, campaigner for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ+) rights, and academic at Makerere University – was detained on charges of cyber-harassment and offensive communication after posting on social media about the failure of the First Lady (also the Education Minister) to keep her election promise of providing menstrual products in schools.[11]

Those charges were dropped, but 2018 brought a new wave of harassment against Dr Nyanzi for her protest writing. Nyanzi developed her strategy of ‘radical rudeness’ against the state throughout 2018; her poems, which made graphic reference to the President’s deceased mother’s vagina and labia, ultimately landed her in prison when Ugandan authorities re-arrested her for ‘insulting the late mother of President Yoweri Museveni in a Facebook post’.[12] During her trial, Nyanzi staged a nude protest (via video link) to contest its unfairness; she has since refused bail, saying she wants to teach fellow prisoners how to use Facebook.[13]

In Gabon, two newspapers and French TV channel France 24 were suspended after airing a documentary critical of President Omar Bongo. In Somaliland in June, authorities sought to withdraw the license of the newspaper Waaberi. The South Sudanese Media Regulatory Authority attempted to take the independent UN-operated Radio Miraya off the air for allegedly refusing to comply with the country’s broadcast laws. In Sudan in August, authorities confiscated the print circulation of more than ten newspapers.[14]

 

 

[1] ARTICLE 19, Kenya: Passage of Flawed Computer and Cybercrimes Act Threatens Free Expression, 18 May 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/resources/kenya-passage-of-flawed-computer-and-cybercrimes-act-threatens-free-expression/

[2] ARTICLE 19, Eastern Africa: New Tax and Licensing Rules for Social Media Threaten Freedom of Expression, 26 June 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/blog/resources/eastern-africa-new-tax-and-licensing-rules-for-social-media-threaten-freedom-of-expression/

[3] Coast Week, Activists Across Uganda Denounce New Tax on Social Media Users, 29 August 2018, available at http://www.coastweek.com/4122-Activists-in-Uganda-denounce-tax-on-social-media-users.htm

[4] Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda, Three Journalists Arrested as they Cover Mobile Money Tax Protest, 13 July 2018, available at https://hrnjuganda.org/?p=4539

[5] Business Tech, Parliament Has Passed the ‘Internet Censorship’ Bill – Here’s What it Means for You, 8 March 2018, available at https://businesstech.co.za/news/media/229911/parliament-has-passed-the-internet-censorship-bill-heres-what-it-means-for-you/

[6] 702, New ‘Key Points’ Bill Contains Throwbacks to Apartheid-era Legislation, 23 March 2018, available at http://www.702.co.za/articles/296970/new-key-points-bill-contains-throwbacks-to-apartheid-era-legislation

[7] Internet Without Borders, Bénin: Government Repeals Social Media Tax, n.d., available at https://internetwithoutborders.org/benin-government-repeals-social-media-tax/

[8] AFEX, Constricting Cyberspace: African Governments Target Social Media Users in New Laws, 5 June 2018, available at http://www.africafex.org/country-highlights/constricting-cyberspace-african-governments-target-social-media-users-in-new-laws

[9] Human Rights Watch, Mozambique: New Media Fees Assault Press Freedom, 17 August 2018, available at https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/17/mozambique-new-media-fees-assault-press-freedom

[10] ARTICLE 19, Rwanda: Analysis of the Penal Code, 10 September 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/resources/rwanda-analysis-of-penal-code/

[11] ARTICLE 19, XpA Report 17/18, 2 November 2018, available at https://www.article19.org/xpa-18/

[12] Sebastiane Ebatamehi, ‘Detained Ugandan activist, Dr. Stella Nyanzi refuses bail to teach prisoners how to use Facebook’, The Africa Exponent, 11 November 2018, available at https://www.africanexponent.com/post/9371-dr-stella-nyanzi-refuses-bail-in-order-to-teach-fellow-prisoners-how-to-use-facebook

[13] Global Voices, Ugandan Feminist Stella Nyanzi Deploys Nude Protest to Challenge Free Speech Sentence, 2 August 2018, available at https://globalvoices.org/2019/08/02/ugandan-feminist-stella-nyanzi-deploys-nude-protest-to-challenge-free-speech-sentence/

[14] Civicus, Monitor: Tracking Civic Space, n.d., available at https://monitor.civicus.org/

Font Resize
Contrast