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Ugandans can be jailed for using VPN – lawyer

Lawyers have warned Ugandans against encouraging people to install the Virtual Private Networks (VPN) as a way of evading the social media tax, saying the practice is illegal and can book them time in prison.

The warning was made by Human Rights Lawyer, Nicholas Opiyo, while appearing on a TV show where he warned that the Income Tax Act bars Ugandans from encouraging people to pay tax, adding that Uganda Revenue Authority is to prosecute these people.

He explained: “Under the income tax laws, anybody who incites anyone by any means to avoid paying a tax commits a crime, and can be prosecuted and jailed for seven years. So people should better be careful when you are encouraging others to use VPN, encouraging others not to pay the tax.”

“If the Tax body was serious, they can actually prosecute you because Section 52 of the Income Tax Act require that if you incite people not to pay tax, you can be prosecuted. So be very careful when you encourage others to use VPN,” Opiyo warned.

It should be recalled that Parliament passed into law the Excise Duty Amendment Bill 2018 on 30th May 2018, that slapped a 1% tax on all mobile money transactions that would see government generate Shs115Bn.

The Act also imposed Shs200 daily levy on Over The Top (OTT) social media like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter that would see Government raise Shs284Bn.

The Social media taxes coming into effect on July 1, 2018, has caused uproar within the public, that has seen people download VPN Apps to beat the new tax measures.

Opiyo said whereas the State has a duty to impose tax and tax must be imposed for the purpose of development, the social media tax has a possibility of unfairly restricting access to information because access to information includes the rights to receive and impart information.

He explained: “It has the impact of disenfranchising a huge number of people, engaging in public affairs. So that means, there is a case to make for violation of the rights to freedom of expression because the role of the state must be to enhance the right, by imposing this tax, the state is inhibiting that right.”

On his assessment of the proposed tax, Opiyo deemed it as unfair arguing that what Government is doing is tax itself out of poverty, “What the State is doing is behaving like a leech, sucking blood out of the body, they aren’t feeding it,” Opiyo said.

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