By Maureen Kakah
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) wants the Tanzanian government to withdraw its latest threats to online forums, blogs and streaming websites.
In a statement, CPJ on Tuesday urged the John Magufuli administration to rescind its Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, saying they pose a threat to online media.
The regulations were first issued in March by Tanzanian Information Minister Harisson Mwakyembe.
But it is the directive from the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) on Monday requiring all online forums, blogs and websites to register with the government by June 15 that has sparked the protests.
The regulations will also see online users stripped off anonymity.
Media watchdog calls on Tanzania to scrap online content law
This means that the government can force websites to take down “prohibited” content, broadly defined to include material that “causes annoyance.”
Websites are therefore required to “have in place mechanisms to identify” those who interact on the forums, and that cyber cafes keep user logs for up to 12 months.
Failure to comply with these regulations can carry a prison term of up to 12 months and fines of up to five million Tanzanian shillings (US$2,200).
According to CPJ’s Africa Coordinator Angela Quintal, such a policy is retrogressive and erodes online media in Tanzania and beyond.
“We urge authorities to scrap these problematic regulations and allow the free press to thrive online,” said Ms Quintal.
However, TCRA has defended its directive, saying the government is acting in “good faith to recognise” content providers, and that about 50 of them have already been registered since March.
The directive has consequently seen some online discussion forums, such as Jamii Forums, temporarily shut down.
The directive continues to cause jitters in neighbouring Tanzania, just few days after President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the Computer misuse and Cybercrimes bill into law last month.
The signing of the law saw bloggers challenge the matter in court and 22 sections of the Act have already been temporarily suspended.
However, the government has also filed an application at the High Court seeking to have the temporary order suspending implementation of that law set aside.
Bloggers argue that the disputed law contains provisions which deny, infringe and threaten freedom of expression, media and persons besides the right to privacy, property and a fair hearing.
But the Kenyan government claims that the court’s directive makes it difficult to prosecute those accused of committing offenses related to cybercrime and that it has created a lacuna in the law.
The Kenyan government also alleges that the court’s directive hinders the state’s ability to prohibit, mitigate, investigate and respond to domestic cyber-crime contrary to international cyber security due diligence requirements.
The case is set to be heard on July 18 before a final decision is made.
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