Repression of press freedom rises in Tanzania – Reports

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Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in two separate reports released recently said that Tanzania’s repression of the media, human rights defenders and opposition parties has intensified since 2015.

Both reports found that President John Magufuli’s government has adopted or enforced a raft of repressive laws that stifle independent journalism and severely restrict the activities of nongovernmental organizations and the political opposition, according to Amnesty International.

“As President Magufuli marks four years in office next month, he must carefully reflect on his government’s record of ruthlessly disemboweling the country’s human rights framework. His government must repeal all oppressive laws being used to clamp down on dissent, and urgently end human rights violations and abuses,” said Roland Ebole, Amnesty International’s Tanzania researcher.

Affirming Ebole’s statement, Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch said: “The regressive policies and actions of the authorities have stifled the media, sown fear among civil society, and restricted the playing field for political parties in the lead-up to elections.”

The report by Amnesty International, “The price we pay: Targeted for dissent by the Tanzanian State” and the one by Human Rights Watch, “As long as I am quiet, I am safe: Threats to Independent Media and Civil Society in Tanzania” were researched and documented separately but their findings were similar.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 80 journalists, bloggers, lawyers, representatives of nongovernmental organizations, and members of political parties. Amnesty International interviewed 68 government officials, representatives of non-governmental and inter-governmental groups, lawyers, academics, religious leaders, and diplomats, and reviewed court decisions, national laws, government notices and orders.

Both organizations found that Tanzanian authorities undermined the rights to freedom of expression and association by enforcing new and existing repressive laws and regulations governing media, non-governmental organizations, and political parties.

Since 2015, the government has stepped up censorship by banning or suspending at least five newspapers for content deemed critical. The Zanzibar Broadcasting Commission also shut down a radio station, Swahiba FM, in October 2015 because it reported on the annulment and subsequent re-run of the 2015 elections.

“We see a dangerous escalation towards repression in Tanzania. The authorities are denying citizens their right to information by administering only those “truths” sanctioned by the state,” said Ebole.

In July 2016, President Magufuli announced a blanket ban on political activities until 2020 in contravention of the country’s laws. The ban has been selectively applied against opposition politicians, several having been arrested and prosecuted on trumped-up charges. In 2017, unidentified assailants shot opposition MP Tundu Lissu, and in 2018, unidentified assailants killed two officials of the main opposition party, Chadema, Daniel John and Godfrey Luena. Although police say they are investigating these killings, no arrests are yet to be made.

“The Tanzanian government must immediately and unconditionally drop all charges against journalists and politicians brought simply for exercising their rights to free expression and association,” said Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. (Source: Amnesty International)

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