Police in Uganda fired teargas to disperse a small crowd of protesters demonstrating against new taxes including a levy on access to social media platforms, a police spokesman told Reuters.
Starting in the 2018/19 (July-June) financial year, government introduced several new taxes and hiked existing ones to increase government revenue and finance public infrastructure.
A crowd of about 200 people wearing red T-shirts and shouting “Power, Power!” as they marched through downtown Kampala was dispersed after police tried to arrest an independent lawmaker critical of President Yoweri Museveni, a Reuters witness said.
Two of the new taxes, one on access to social media and a second on transactions on Mobile Money, stoked widespread outrage from telecom firms’ customers.
Mobile Money is a cell phone-borne service popular in Uganda and across East Africa to transmit cash between individuals and effect payments for goods and services.
Relations between governments and social media companies are widely watched in Africa, where rapidly growing mobile internet connection is hailed by human rights groups as an essential tool of political and economic development.
The Ugandan government blocked access to Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp during the last general election in 2016, a move used by other entrenched African rulers in response to grassroots movements against them.
Patrick Onyango, deputy police spokesman said security forces used teargas to break up the demonstration.
“We used teargas to disperse their illegal demonstration and we arrested three protesters,” he said.
Onyango said demonstrators failed to seek police clearance for the protest.
Ugandan public order management law requires protest organisers to have police permission which is often denied.
Under the new tax laws every online Ugandan has to pay 200 shillings (0.0401 pounds) daily to be able to have access on so called over the top (OTT) platforms.
The OTTs targeted by the new tax include Facebook, Twitter, Google Hangouts, YouTube, Skype, Yahoo Messenger, WhatsApp and others.
Opponents of the tax including Amnesty International said the tax is a move to limit voices critical of the long ruling Museveni on the platforms, disguised as a measure to increase public revenues.
Some Ugandans said the tax on mobile money will make use of the service costly, deter customers and kill jobs.
The service employs thousands who work as agents on behalf of the telecommunication firms.