Human rights advocates challenge new law restricting online content

Expression

Tanzanian authorities continued to develop a legal arsenal to restrict freedom of expression. The Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations 2018 came into force in March 2018 and seeks to regulate content published online, thereby impacting bloggers, radio and TV stations streaming online, and other online platforms. These media are now required to apply for a license before publishing content and must also pay an annual fee of up to 900 USD. Failing to comply could lead to a fine of five million shillings (2,180 USD) and/or a prison sentence of 12 months. Authorities retain the power to withdraw licenses on broad grounds, including from sites deemed to publish content that "cause annoyance, threaten, or encourage or incite crime, or lead to public disorder". In addition, internet service providers are required to remove such "prohibited content" within 12 hours or face a fine of at least five million shillings (2,180 USD) or a year-long prison sentence. Internet cafes must now put surveillance cameras in their facilities to record internet users' activities. 

In a positive development, on 4th May the High Court of Tanzania issued a temporary injunction to suspend the implementation of the above-mentioned law that was pending due to a legal challenge from Tanzanian human rights groups. The human rights advocates had petitioned the High Court, claiming that the law's provisions constitute a violation of freedom of expression and compromises users' right to privacy. The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority had previously set a deadline of 5th May for platforms to register and obtain a license under the new regulation.

Henry Maina, East Africa regional director for Article 19, said to VOA

"Tanzanians are beginning to organize themselves online, and so here is a clear measure of a state policy to try and close down civic space. And in so doing, they are not only closing down civic space, but they are closing down virtual space so that Tanzanians cannot organize".

Civil society has condemned the increasing civic space restrictions in the country. In a joint letter, 65 civil society organisations urged the Tanzanian authorities to take measures to improve the environment for human rights defenders, independent media and opposition political party members. 

Peaceful Assembly

protest against Tanzania's growing number of restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, which had been organised on social media for Union Day on 26th April, was reportedly prevented by threats, intimidation and the deployment of security forces. Authorities banned the protest, and police Chief Gilles Muroto warned those planning to protest, threatening that they "will seriously suffer ... they will be beaten like stray dogs". Interior Minister Mwigulu Nchemba declared earlier “even those who protest at home” would be arrested. 

According to media reports, police officers arrested nine protesters who demonstrated in Dar es Salaam in spite of the threats from the authorities. On 24th April, police in Arusha arrested at least seven people accused of mobilising people for the 26th April protest. Authorities also detained opposition member Elizabeth Mambosho for inciting demonstrations on social media on 25th April. Previously, on 21st March, two citizens were arrested for calling on people to protest. 

Association

On 27th March, a court in Dar es Salaam charged Freeman Mbowe, chairman of the opposition CHADEMA political party, along with five other senior party officials, on allegations of sedition, incitement to violence and organising an illegal assembly, among other charges. The court decision came about following protests on 16th February which led to the death of student Akwinlina Akwiline, an incident that was previously reported on the Monitor. After another CHADEMA leader -  Halima Mdee - was charged, all seven were released on bail on 3rd April by the Kisutu Resident Magistrates' Court.