Tanzanian authorities threaten HRDs, LGBTI activists and journalists
In July 2017, Tanzania was added to the CIVICUS Monitor's Watch List of countries where there is an immediate and developing threat to civic space.
In a recent development, two human rights defenders, Bibiana Mushi and Nicodemus Ngelela, were arrested on 12th July 2017. Both activists were released on bail and now await their trial set for 10th August on charges of Disobedience of Statutory Duty under Section 123 of the Tanzanian Penal Code, which can carry a sentence of two years if found guilty. Mushi and Ngelela were leading a capacity building workshop for local government officials serving in regions with a prevalence of extractive industries when they were unexpectedly arrested.
Over the last several months, anti-LGBTI rhetoric from the government in Tanzania has intensified. In a speech on 22nd June, President Magufuli condemned NGOs working on LGBTI rights issues, saying that the organisations have ‘brought [Tanzania] drugs and homosexual practices that even cows disapprove of". At a rally in the capital Dodoma on 25th June, Home Affairs Minister Mgiwgulu Nchemba threatened organisations campaigning for LGBTI rights, vowing to de-register such organisations and imprison activists. "Those who want to campaign for gay rights should find another country that allows those things,” Nchemba stated.
In a speech on 22nd June, President Magufuli spoke out against education for pregnant adolescents and teen mothers, stating that “as long as I’m president, no pregnant students will be allowed to return to school”. Three days later, at the Dodoma rally, Home Affairs Minister Nchemba also threatened organisations that challenge this educational ban as stated by the president with possible deregistration.
On 6th July, a coalition of 25 Tanzanian civil society organizations that advocate for women and girls’ rights released a joint statement reaffirming their support for adolescent mothers to continue their education.
A group of 22 international civil society organisations have released a joint statement calling on the Tanzanian government to end the threats against civil society, particularly LGBTI rights advocates. They also urged the government to provide pregnant girls with assistance in finishing their education. According to Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director for East Africa,
“Independent civil society plays a crucial role in debates, policymaking and services on critical issues facing Tanzania. Threatening to obstruct their work and silence their voices is counterproductive and contrary to Tanzania’s international legal obligations”.
In another alarming development on 27th June, two civic leaders were gunned down in Kibiti district. Village chairman Khamis Mtima and executive officer Shamte Makawa were killed by unknown assailants in Mangwi village. Over 30 people have been murdered in Kibiti and surrounding districts over the past two years, many of whom were local leaders.
On 10th July, Halima Mdee, a lawmaker from the opposition party Chadema, was charged with "insulting the president". Police detained Mdee in Dar es Salaam on 4th July, after she spoke critically of President John Magufulia’s ban on schooling for pregnant girls at a press conference on 3rd July. Despite the arrest order specifying a 48-hour detention, Mdee was held for six days before her court appearance. She has been granted bail through 7th August.
On 15th June 2017, the Minister of Information, Sports and Culture, Harrison Mwakyembe, suspended the daily newspaper Mawio for a period of two years under the 2016 Media Services Act. The newspaper’s suspension came after it published information linking two former Tanzanian presidents to corruption in the mining industry. A presidential order was made at the same time as the information was published that prohibits Tanzanian media from mentioning former presidents in connection to the mining scandal.
In addition, Simon Mkina, Mawio's editor-in-chief, has reported receiving anonymous threatening calls on his mobile phone in the days following the newspaper’s suspension.
The Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF) spoke out against the ban, arguing that Mwakyembe's actions contravened the Media Services Act, which gives the Information Minister power to suspend content, but not entire publications.
At a news conference in Dar es Salaam, TEF chair, Theophil Makunga, stated,
“By banning the newspaper, the minister has usurped the powers of the High Court and abdicated his responsibility as the principal guardian of the industry […] the punishment is unjust for the whole industry”.
Local and international civil society have been protesting the Media Services Act of 2016, which poses a significant threat to freedom of expression and media freedom in Tanzania. The Act grants the authorities sweeping powers “to prevent or put obstacles to the publication of any content that endangers national security or public safety", thereby replacing self-regulation of the media with government regulation.