Beirut (AFP)

Lebanon unveiled Thursday a tax on calls made via Internet messaging applications, a measure that aims to generate revenue for the state but has caused indignation of users.

The Lebanese Minister of Information explained during a press conference that users would be charged 20 cents (18 euro cents) for each call made via messaging services such as Whatsapp and Viber.

Approved on Wednesday by the government, the measure will come into force on January 1, 2020, he told reporters after a meeting of the government, adding that the tax would bring the state $ 200 million per year.

The Minister did not provide more details, but the organization for the defense of digital freedoms in the Arab world SMEX says that the major telephone operators are already considering introducing a system that will detect on their networks the Internet calls of users .

The measure announced by the Lebanese government is part of a series of austerity measures introduced to try to revive an economy at half mast.

"In Lebanon, the price of mobile is among the highest in the region," reminds SMEX on Twitter. And with this measure "users will have to pay twice for Internet services," warns the NGO.

TechGeek365, a digital rights organization in the region, said it had contacted the social network Facebook, owner of Whatsapp, about the decision of the Lebanese government.

"A spokesperson said that such a decision would be a direct violation of the terms of use," TechGeek365 adds on Twitter.

According to SMEX, however, Facebook has already "in the past accepted a tax imposed on social networks in Uganda, which in fact amounts to the same".

Lebanon has for several years suffered a deterioration of its economy, suffering in particular from the war in neighboring Syria, whose repercussions have been added to endemic corruption and decaying infrastructure.

Public debt rises to more than $ 86 billion, more than 150% of GDP.

Beirut committed in April 2018 to initiate reforms at an international conference in return for promises of loans and grants totaling $ 11.6 billion.

In July, the Parliament adopted an austerity budget for 2019, which aims to reduce the deficit by four points.

"It seems that the Lebanese government does not steal enough money from the people," a Twitter user joked, reacting to the WhatsApp announcement.

© 2019 AFP