CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Tanzania

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 30.11.2021 at 07:40

Latest Civicus alert

See all CIVICUS Alerts

The Civic Space Developments

view Civic Space Developments
systematic crackdown on dissent continues

systematic crackdown on dissent continues

Freeman Mbowe, the chairman of the country's main opposition party, Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Swahili for Party of Democracy and Progress) popularly known as Chadema, appeared in the High Court charged with terrorism-related and economic crimes; police officers arrest and detain women members of Chadema while they were jogging; cartoonist, Opptertus John Fwema, arrested at his home; police officers arrest and detain Harlod Shemsanga, a journalist at the YouTube based Mgawe TV, while covering the above-mentioned jogging event by women members of Chadema

Association

On 27th August 2021, Freeman Mbowe, the chairman of the country's main opposition party, Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Swahili for Party of Democracy and Progress) popularly known as Chadema, appeared in the High Court charged with terrorism-related and economic crimes, as previously reported on the Monitor. His party claimed that the police tortured him in custody to force him to make a statement. Days later however, on 6th September 2021, Judge Elinaza Luvanda recused himself from handling the case, and on 20th October 2021, a second judge withdrew from the case following a ruling that dismissed an objection raised by Mbowe. Judge Siyani dismissed an objection raised by the defence over the admissibility of a statement made by one of Mbowe’s co-accused, Adam Hassan Kasekwa, on grounds that it was recorded under duress. He cited his newly appointed role as Principal judge of the High Court by President Samia Suhulu Hassan as the reason for his withdrawal from the case. The case was put on hold until a new judge is assigned.

Separately, on 2nd October 2021, police officers arrested and detained women members of Chadema while they were jogging. Baraza la Wanawake Chadema (BAWACHA) which is the women’s league in Chadema, had organised jogging events for its members to promote good health, where several women at the events wore printed T-Shirts with the words "Tume Huru" ("Independent Commission") in reference to Chadema's campaign for electoral reforms. According to a statement released by BAWACHA, Chadema leaders following up on the arrest were also detained at Mbweni police station. 

Expression

On 24th September 2021, police officers arrested a cartoonist, Opptertus John Fwema, at his home in Dar es Salaam, and held him at the Oyster Bay police station. Fwema's arrest was related to an Instagram post of a political cartoon critical of President Samia Suluhu Hassan. The cartoon depicted former President Kikwete being weak and acting as her protector at the same time. According to the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), police officers interrogated Fwema in the absence of his lawyer. On 8th October 2021, Fwema was charged with publishing “false information” contrary to section 16 of the Cybercrimes Act (2015) and released on bail after more than two weeks in custody.

On 2nd October 2021, police officers arrested and detained Harlod Shemsanga, a journalist at the YouTube based Mgawe TV, while covering the above-mentioned jogging event by Bawacha. The officers confiscated his camera and laptop, reviewed the footage of his interviews and locked him up in a cell, even after he identified himself as a journalist. In addition, police officers arrested Earnest Mgawe, the media outlet’s owner, as he was seeking bail for Shemsanga. They were released on 4th October 2021 but were placed under investigation for “illegal assembly”.

Commenting on the incident, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo said:

“Critical political commentary and coverage of the opposition are essential to Tanzania’s democratic discourse, and it is deeply worrying that police are equating this kind of journalism to criminal activity… Authorities should also discontinue any ongoing investigations into Mgawe TV’s Harold Shemsanga and Ernest Mgawe, return their confiscated devices, and abandon the habit of throwing journalists behind bars for their work.” 

Peaceful Assembly

Article 20 (1) of the Constitution of Tanzania guarantees the right of peaceful assembly. A notification must be provided to the police 48 hours before holding a demonstration.

Article 20 (1) of the Constitution of Tanzania guarantees the right of peaceful assembly. A notification must be provided to the police 48 hours before holding a demonstration. The police can deny an assembly if it considers the assembly is likely to ‘cause a breach of the peace, prejudice the public safety or public order, be used for any unlawful purpose, or for failure to notify in the required time period.’ The Police Force and Auxiliary Service Act 2002 also establish that an assembly of three or more people, who do not obey orders to disperse when requested, would be classified as an “unlawful assembly”. In practice, sometimes security forces used excessive force to disperse peaceful protestors and even arrest protest organisers.

Expression

The constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression, however this right is undermined by a number of laws including the National Security Act and the recently enacted Statistics Act and Cybercrimes Act that severely curtail media freedoms and access to information.

The constitution guarantees the right to freedom of expression, however this right is undermined by a number of laws including the National Security Act and the recently enacted Statistics Act and Cybercrimes Act that severely curtail media freedoms and access to information. In 2016, the Media Services Act was enacted, replacing the problematic Newspaper Act (1976) and the Tanzania News Agency Act (1976). Despite its stated intention to ‘professionalise’ the sector, new Act contains restrictive provisions and has been heavily criticised by media workers and free expression advocates throughout its drafting. In practice, journalists in Tanzania face harassment, threats and detention. Tanzania boasts several independent newspapers and numerous online news-sites and blogs. Nevertheless, government-aligned media dominates the television space. There are no overt restrictions on access to mobile phones or internet technology, but access to a decent internet connection is out of reach for many. As part of the crackdown on the LGBTI community, in 2016 the government announced that it would monitor the social media accounts of citizens who identify as LGBTI, and their followers. The Media Council of Tanzania, a self-regulation body, has been effective at improving standards of journalism while defending the rights of its members in cases where they have been harassed or attacked. The Council documented 20 freedom of expression violations in 2015.