By Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala
DAR ES SALAAM, June 11 (Reuters) - Tanzania ordered all unregistered bloggers and online forums on Monday to suspend their websites immediately or face criminal prosecution, as critics accuse the government of tightening control of internet content.
Several sites, including popular online discussion platform Jamiiforums, said on Monday they had temporarily shut down after the state-run Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) warned it would take legal action against all unlicensed websites.
Regulations passed in March made it compulsory for bloggers and owners of other online forums such as YouTube channels to register with the government and pay up to $900 for a licence. Per capita income in Tanzania is slightly below $900 a year.
Digital activists say the law is part of a crackdown on dissent and free speech by the government of President John Magufuli, who was elected in 2015. Government officials argue the new rules are aimed at tackling hate speech and other online crimes, including cyberbullying and pornography.
"All unregistered online content providers must be licensed before June 15. Starting from today June 11 until June 15, they are prohibited from posting any new content on their blogs, forums or online radios and televisions," the regulator said in a statement on Monday.
The statement said legal action would be taken against any unregistered websites posting new content.
Anyone convicted of defying the new regulations faces a fine of at least 5 million shillings ($2,200), imprisonment for a minimum 12 months, or both.
Jamiiforums, a whistle-blowing website, said it had shut down its online discussion platform after the threat from the communications watchdog. The website has been enmeshed in a court battle for nearly a year to keep the site online.
The website's slogan is "where we dare to talk openly". Most users post their comments under pseudonyms, but the website has been accused by authorities and individuals of allowing people to post fabricated allegations.
The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders group has said the new online content rules "will kill off Tanzania's blogosphere".
This year neighbouring Uganda and Kenya have also moved to regulate internet uses with new laws, though their new rules are less strict than Tanzania's. (Reporting by Fumbuka Ng'wanakilala Editing by Maggie Fick and David Stamp)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.