Tanzania’s communications regulator set a two-week deadline for bloggers to register platforms under strict new online content rules, amid concerns that government is cracking down on internet users.
The regulations passed in March make it mandatory for bloggers and owners of online forums such as Youtube TV channels to register with government and pay up to $900 for a licence.
Digital activists said the move is the latest salvo in a crackdown on dissent and free speech by the government of President John Magufuli, elected in 2015 and who pledged to speed up economic growth and development.
“All online content providers are required to complete the application process before 5 May 2018,” the state-run Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) said on its website. The registration process opened on Saturday.
Applicants are required to provide details of shareholders, share capital, citizenship of owners, staff qualification and training programmes and a tax clearance certificate.
Bloggers who fail to comply with the new rules could be subject to a fine of at least five million shillings ($2,200) or a prison sentence of a minimum 12 months, or both.
Most bloggers in Tanzania are individuals, without registered companies, making it difficult to meet registration requirements, activists say.
Magufuli ordered authorities to take legal action against anyone deemed to be “abusing” freedom of expression by posting misleading anti-government statements on social media.
Last week, police briefly detained two musicians, including one of the country’s most popular singers, after they posted video clips authorities deemed obscene.
Critics accuse Magufuli’s government of infringing free speech and democracy with the new regulations.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said the new online content rules “will kill off Tanzania’s blogosphere”.
The number of internet users in Tanzania rose 16% in 2017 to 23 million, around 44% of the population, with most using smartphones to go online.
Earlier this month, Uganda, another East African country moving to regulate internet use, announced plans for a new tax on social media users.