The Plight of Tanzania’s LGBTQ+ Community Amid VPN Regulations

Keyboard with an Tanzania flag key and .tz domain key

In Tanzania, a country marked by strict laws against homosexuality, the LGBTQ+ community faces a critical challenge: maintaining privacy and freedom of expression in a digital world under increasing scrutiny.

Recent governmental measures have put an additional spotlight on the use of VPNs, a tool crucial for the community’s online safety and freedom.

GlobalVoices who first reported on the issue, highlighted Sabel, a gay man residing in Dar es Salaam, who encapsulates the anxieties shared by many Tanzanian LGBTQ+ individuals.

Although online platforms offer a semblance of anonymity and a space for self-expression, the threat of legal repercussions looms large.

Sabel was quoted as explaining “Online, we can express our identities under anonymous names. However, the fear of arrest persists, making VPNs a necessary shield.”

The Essential Role of VPNs for Safety and Freedom

VPNs are essential in ensuring secure and encrypted internet connections, helping users bypass geographic restrictions and safeguarding data from potential interception.

For many in the LGBTQ+ community, these tools are vital for engaging safely with others and accessing restricted content, such as health information or forums for emotional support.

The use of platforms like Telegram has provided a relatively secure environment for these interactions. “I avoid using other social media to discuss my sexuality. Telegram feels safer,” says Sabel, underscoring the constant calculation of risks involved in digital communication.

However, the Tanzanian government’s stance on VPN usage has introduced a new layer of complexity and concern.

On October 13, 2023, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) mandated that all VPN users register their usage.

This directive, accompanied by a tight deadline of October 30, 2023, sent ripples of alarm through the community, especially given the severe penalties attached to non-compliance – including fines and possible imprisonment.

This requirement not only threatens the privacy of VPN users but also poses a disproportionate risk to LGBTQ+ individuals, whose online activities might be criminalised under existing laws.

Sections 13 and 14 of the Cyber Crimes Act 2015 label pornography as illegal, while homosexuality itself is outlawed under Section 154 of the Tanzanian Penal Code.

Government Measures and Community Responses

The government’s rigorous enforcement of these laws was highlighted in a recent parliamentary session where it was disclosed that hundreds of websites and social media accounts have been shut down for promoting same-sex relationships.

This crackdown has not only isolated the community but also heightened their vulnerabilities.

The registration of VPNs is seen by many as a veiled attempt to further surveil and potentially prosecute the LGBTQ+ community.

Tamba, another gay resident highlighted by GlobalVoices and who resides in of Dar es Salaam, shares his concerns, “The registration requirement feels like a hidden ban. It’s unlikely that any LGBTQ+ person would feel safe registering.”

In response to these developments, the Tanzania Digital Rights Coalition (TDRC) issued a strong condemnation of the TCRA’s new rules.

The coalition argues that these measures infringe upon the constitutional rights to freedom of expression, privacy, and access to information. “Limiting VPN use jeopardizes personal and data security of Tanzanian citizens, exposing them to unauthorized surveillance and potential cyberattacks,” the coalition stated.

Despite the risks, the need for VPNs persists as they provide a crucial layer of security. “VPN offers us a more secure way to be free online. The registration is just another way to identify and target us,” Sabel remarked.

He sees little recourse in the courts and places his hope on international pressure and advocacy to challenge these restrictive practices.

As the deadline for VPN registration has passed, the full impact of these regulations remains to be seen.

However, the situation underscores a broader struggle for digital rights and personal freedoms within a society where being oneself is still a punishable offense.

The resilience of Tanzania’s LGBTQ+ community, supported by global advocacy and digital rights organisations, continues to be a beacon of hope in their fight for equality and privacy and here at VPNCompare we applaud their resolve.

Author: Hans Wagner

With a Computer Science degree in his toolkit, Hans is passionate about online privacy and cybersecurity. He loves breaking down complex tech topics so that everyone, from beginners to experts, can understand and benefit. He's all about empowering people to navigate the digital world safely and confidently.

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