Prominent online media owner charged under cybercrime law
On 16th December, media owner Maxence Melo became the latest victim of Tanzania's cybercrime law after being charged with obstructing an investigation and refusing to reveal information about sources. Police had earlier conducted an allegedly illegal search of Mr. Melo's home without his consent and without a valid search warrant. Mr. Melo was also charged with operating a website without the correct .co.tz domain address. He is the co founder of Jamiiforums, a popular social media platform in Tanzania which has been crucial in exposing corruption in the country.
JamiiForums Founder, Maxence Melo today has been charged with 3 offences before the Kisutu court in Dar. #FreeMaxenceMelo 1/4— Jamii Forums (@JamiiForums) December 16, 2016
(1) Management of a domain not registered in Tanzania under Section 79(c) of the Electronic and Postal Communications Act. #FreeMaxenceMelo— Jamii Forums (@JamiiForums) December 16, 2016
(2) Obstruction of investigations under the Cyber Crimes Act 0f 2015 for not complying with an order of disclosure of data. #FreeMaxenceMelo— Jamii Forums (@JamiiForums) December 16, 2016
(3) Obstruction of investigations, by refusing to provide data over what was published on May 10 and December 13, 2016. #FreeMaxenceMelo— Jamii Forums (@JamiiForums) December 16, 2016
Since its passing earlier this year, the cybercrime law has been used to target several people because of comments made online and via mobile messaging apps. In September, a university professor was charged for insulting the president in a WhatsApp conversation. Pressure for Mr. Melo's release is increasing, following strong condemnation from local and international rights groups. In a statement, Onesmo Olengurumwa from the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition said:
'We also demand the government to stop interfering with the freedom of online media and further stop harassing the owners of such platforms in a bid to force them to disclose identities of their users and also ensure that Cybercrime Law and others are not used to restrict Internet users the freedom in Tanzania.'