Yes, of course they're being censored in Tanzania

Good news from Tanzania in that the courts have put a roadblock in the way of one more of those steps into dictatorship. The problem though is that this is still just a temprary victory – and it doesn’t win against the general direction the government is trying to go at all. Which is to stifle any voice of civil society as a means of making sure no one points out the Emperor’s unclothed state. For that is of course the reason for some goodly amount of censorship attempts. To insist that no one should be able to point out when those who govern are being silly buggers.

DAR ES SALAAM – Tanzanian bloggers and rights activists won a temporary court injunction on Friday against a government order to register their online platforms that raised concern about a crackdown on free speech.

Tanzania’s communications regulator had given bloggers, as well as owners of other online forums such as YouTube TV channels, until May 5 to heed tough new internet content rules through state registration and a licence fee of up to $900.

That’s not chicken feed that $900. It perhaps a year’s income by the standards of that country. We’re talking of something like £25,000 a year for the UK, maybe $40,000 for the US. It’s not chopped liver now is it? And the fee is to, well, the fee is to make sure that those who scribble upon the internet don’t say anything that those in power don’t want them saying. There’s no more and no less to it than that:

The new rules also require bloggers to furnish details of shareholders, share capital, citizenship of owners, staff qualification and training programmes, as well as a tax clearance certificate, to obtain an operating licence.

Bloggers convicted of defying the new rules could be fined at least 5 million shillings ($2,200) or imprisoned for a minimum 12 months, or both.

Most bloggers in the East African country are individuals, without registered companies, making it difficult for them to meet the registration requirements.

Is Magufuli cracking down on free speech?

Well, yes, of course he is, there’s no other point to this at all, is there?

Activists say the regulations are the latest move against internet freedoms and individuals criticising the government. In April, President John Magufuli ordered legal action against anyone deemed to be abusing freedom of expression to post “misleading” anti-government messages online.

He’s even actually said so. It’s working too:

Several Tanzanian bloggers have already shut down their sites to avoid facing legal action.

Not that it’s going to work of course, it’s easy enough to set up a blog outside Tanzania after all, and to blog anonymously. There’s also the point that people like us would happily host blogs if that’s what needs to be done. In fact, if that Tanzanian law does come into effect then that’s what we will do. Have a section of Tanzanian bloggers. Any enquiries from the Tanzanian authorities would be met with the response in Pressdram v Arkell, which is the correct response to the very idea of those licences of course.

Drop us a line if you are a blogger in Tanzania and would care to be hosted here.