Tanzania issued a warning over the weekend that all online media creators, including everything from online radio providers to bloggers, have just two weeks to register with the government. Registration and license fees add up to about $920, roughly what the average Tanzanian earns in an entire year.
The new law allows for punishments of up to a year in prison and at least 5 million shillings—the equivalent of $2,180. The Tanzanian government is largely cracking down on speech critical of President John Magufuli, but censors have also started targeting content considered sexually obscene or hate speech.
Popular musician Nassib Abdul, who goes by the name Diamond Platnumz, was arrested briefly last week for posting a video on Instagram of him kissing a woman. The video, which was sent to the 28-year-old’s 4.4 million followers was deemed “obscene.” Another musician, known as Nandy, was also arrested for posting “obscene” content to Whatsapp. Both were released on bail.
“I would like to urge the youth to stop using the internet to post obscene content. The government will continue to safeguard the country’s culture for present and future generations,” Harrison Mwakyembe, Tanzania’s minister of information, said after the arrests.
The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority announced on Saturday that all online forums, bloggers, internet radio stations, and video creators must register with the government by May 5th. Internet cafes are also being forced to install surveillance cameras.
About 23 million of Tanzania’s 52 million citizens have access to the internet, but it’s not clear whether the law requires individuals like Diamond Platnumz to register before posting photos and video third party apps to Instagram. The law seems designed to simply allow prosecution of anyone who criticizes the government or posts sexually suggestive content. Homosexuality is illegal in Tanzania and gay people can be punished with up to 30 years in prison for having sex.
As the Financial Times notes, President Magufuli is nicknamed The Bulldozer for his confrontational style. Elected ostensibly as a populist in 2015, Magufuli has cracked down on political speech he doesn’t like and has pushed socially conservative issues to the top of the national agenda. One issue that has grabbed international attention from human rights organizations is his ban on allowing pregnant teenagers from attending school.
Tanzania is increasingly becoming an authoritarian state as journalists are regularly threatened and politicians who oppose Magufuli have been found murdered. One opposition figure, a member of the Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo party, was murdered by machetes in his home this past February. Another leading political opposition figure was killed by gunmen in his home in September of 2017. Both were considered to be political assassinations.
But despite the risk of death, Tanzania’s independent media producers and human rights organizations have vowed to fight the new regulations on speech.
“According to our constitution, people have a right to collect and share information from any sources,” Onesmo Olengurumwa, a leader of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, told the Financial Times. “If I and a group of like-minded people want to share information online, why should we have to pay for that?”
Correction: This post originally stated that one of the political assassinations was against someone named Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo. That is the name of the opposition party. Gizmodo regrets the error.