President Robert Mugabe has been accused of trying to stifle freedom of expression after it ordered mobile phone operators to increase data tariffs.
According to the new tariffs unveiled by Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), 300 megabytes of data would now cost $10 compared to $1 for 250 megabytes before the increase.
The move has caused a stir on social media with Zimbabweans linking the new tariffs to an alleged government clampdown on free speech.
Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo took to Twitter, criticising the new tariffs as primitive.
“Use of overpricing, instead of technology to curb internet access or manage social media is primitive elitism and promotes under development,” he tweeted.
The Zimbabwe Association of Community Radios (ZACRAS) said the tariff increase was worrying as it came at a time when the government was trying to push through legislation that would curtail the use of social media.
“The move coming as it does, when the Cyber and Computer Crimes Bill whose import and spirit aims to curtail citizens’ freedom of expression and access to information rights, is unfortunate,” ZACRAS said in a statement.
“The action by POTRAZ is clear evidence that the government of Zimbabwe is determined to violate citizens’ rights, to access to information and freedom of expression.
“This is exacerbated by the fact that other media platforms and sources of information like print media are already beyond the reach of many with majority of citizens resorting to use of such platforms as WhatsApp for sharing information,” the association added.
Zimbabweans regularly use social media to organise protests against President Mugabe’s government.
Last year, the government threatened tighter social media use regulations after a Harare pastor Evan Mawarire used Facebook and Twitter to organise one of the biggest job boycotts in a decade in protest against the veteran ruler’s failure to stem corruption.
After the POTRAZ directive, Zimbabwe’s largest mobile phone operator Econet Wireless set the price of 1.5GB data at $$25, making the tariffs one of the most expensive in the region.
“Compared to other countries in the region like in Tanzania, one gigabyte is available at a cost of $0.89, Egypt at $2.82 and Mozambique at $2.87,” ZACRAS said.
“Such is evidence that POTRAZ should work towards meeting regional standards and reduce the gap of access to information between the rich and the poor. “
At least 90 per cent of Zimbabwe’s population is unemployed due to economic problems that have stretched for over a decade.