Tanzania’s Newly Adopted Electronic and Postal Communication Code is Retrogressive and an Affront to Free Speech – AFEX

Despite several calls by civil society and international bodies urging the government of Tanzania to revise or withdraw portions its Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2017, the Minister of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, on March 13, 2018, signed the law. This Regulation outlines conditions regarding usage of new media and dealing with online content in a way that is retrogressive and repressive of press freedom.

Sections of the law are vaguely worded and subjective thus they are likely to be abused by authorities in the country. Some of the definitions in the preliminary provisions have words or expressions that are not clearly defined. For example, “indecent content” is defined as any content that is offensive, morally improper and against current standards of accepted behaviour, such as nudity and sex. Additionally, “obscene content” refers to any content which gives rise to a feeling of disgust by reason of lewd portrayal and is essentially offensive to one’s prevailing notion of decency and modesty, with a possibility of having a negative influence and corrupting the mind of those easily influenced.

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) is seriously concerned about the adoption of this law as these definitions among other provisions are vague and could result in a deliberate attempt by authorities to witch hunt critics and silence dissenting voices in the country.

The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulation also grants extensive powers to the Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) to control freedom of expression rights of Tanzanians online. For instance, Part II section 4 (a) of the Electronic and Postal Communications Act allows the TCRA “to keep a register of bloggers, online forums, online radio and online television”; while this could be a mechanism by the government to have a database of online users, this can also be used as a tool to harass and persecute users who are critical of the government.  Section 4 (b) of the same law empowers the Communications regulator to order removal of “prohibited content.”

The law also allows the Regulatory body to filter and identify the sources of information posted online. Persons who contravene the provisions in these regulations are liable to a fine of not less than five million Tanzanian shillings (USD2,200) or to imprisonment for a term of not less than 12 months or to both.

Online content publishers (bloggers, videos etc.) are expected to pay an application fees of TZS 100,000 (USD $44.00), pay an initial licence fees of TZS 1,000,000 (USD $439.7) and an annual licence fees of TZS 1,000,000 (USD $439.7). Asking ordinary citizens to pay a total amount of $923 to run a personal blog in Tanzania is a calculated attempt by the government to repress any form of discourse or criticism from the general public.

If these laws are implemented in their current state, they will seriously undermine freedom of expression online and prevent Tanzanians from fully benefiting from the opportunities the Internet and social media platforms present. The Internet and social media platforms have allowed citizens and organisations to participate in public discourse easily. Bloggers and journalists continue to rely on the internet in order to highlight their works and findings. Therefore, an attempt by the government of Tanzania to monitor and control all activities on the Internet is unacceptable as it can lead to wide spread self-censorship online.

The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX) is disappointed with the government Tanzania for passing into law such a repressive legislation with clear provisions that could further tighten the country’s already restrictive freedom of expression environment both online and offline.  We appeal to the government to take into account the concerns raised by local and international rights groups and revise the portions of the law that are an affront to free speech.

Click here to read or access Tanzania’s Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulation 2017.