A woman reads a message on social media tax as she scrolls through her Facebook account on her phone in Kampala on July 5, 2018…
FILE - A woman scrolls through her social media account on her phone in Kampala, July 5, 2018. Uganda's Communications Commission issued a notice this week requiring anyone wishing to publish information online to first be licensed.

KAMPALA, UGANDA - Ugandan blogger Ruth Aine has for years worked with young people who are using technology and social media to bring about change. 

Through her work, she has tackled issues on women, society, development, politics and connecting young people to parliament. 

But now the Uganda Communications Commission is demanding Aine and other social media users get a license to publish information and broadcasts online. 

In a notice, the commission says the new regulation covers blogs, television, radio, newspaper, video on demand, internet radio and internet television among other services provided to the public. 

"It's just a way of restricting a number of people that are able to have conversations online," Aines told VOA. "But they also want to know who is saying what and where they are saying it from. The other way is that they are just looking for money, the way that they introduced the OTT tax (Over the Top Tax) on social media." 

Amnesty International Director for East and Southern Africa Deprose Muchena has described the new regulation as a blow to freedom of expression and access to information before the 2021 elections. 

Human rights lawyer Ivan Bwowe petitioned the High Court on Thursday to quash the regulation, which he said limits the right to engage in civic activities and civic duties. 

"UCC wants to make us believe that other online users are going to be protected by what they are saying," Bwowe said. "That notice is a violation of constitutionally guaranteed rights. I will also want an injunction by court to UCC and all state institutions not to fine, arrest or prosecute anyone who is considered to be in violation of that notice." 

The Uganda Communications Commission said the online users subject to the regulation have until October 5 to obtain permission. 

Response from UCC

UCC spokesperson Ibrahim Bbosa said this is the third time the notice is being posted since 2018. And he said the regulation only targets online users who are being paid for published content. 

"So, our energies right now is to create sensitization. Is to be able to engage in areas of clarity. We are now offering an opportunity for any youthful, young, creative Ugandan to get in the business of broadcasting as a business, much as you're doing it on our online platform and the regulator is aware," Bbosa said. "If you're doing it as hobby, then we have nothing to do with you." 

According to the UCC, anyone who violates the regulation faces a fine of $135 and up to a year in prison. The commission said anyone who seeks to change the rule must do so through an amendment in parliament.