Crackdown on activists, critical media, dissident voices intensifies in Tanzania


On 17th October, police arrested 13 people at a legal consultation meeting in hotel Peacock Hotel in Dar es Salaam. They were accused by police of 'promoting homosexuality'. The pan-African Initiative for Strategic Litigation in Africa (ISLA) and the Tanzanian Community Health Services and Advocacy (CHESA) organised the meeting to gain more evidence for a case they are planning to file before the court. According to a press statement by ISLA and CHESA, the case involves litigating against the government's decision earlier this year to limit certain health services that were previously provided. 

The arrested individuals were initially granted bail, but that was revoked a couple of days later, on 20th October. Among those arrested are at least two lawyers, including Sibongile Ndashe, ISLA's executive director. According to the Daily News, on 20th October the state's Registrar of Non-Governmental Organisations announced the suspension of CHESA's activities and started an investigation in the organisation's alleged "sensitization of homo sexual activities in various parts of the country", asserting "that homo sexual marriages are not allowed since they are contrary to customs, traditions and laws of the country"

One month earlier in Zanzibar, police arrested 20 people, 12 women and 8 men, on the same charges of 'promoting homosexuality', as the group participated in a training provided by INGO specialised in HIV/Aids awareness education programmes. 

Unidentified assailants shot Tundu Lissu, the parliamentary chief whip of the opposition Chadema party and head of the Tanganyika Law Society, in his stomach and legs on 7th September in front of his home in Dodoma. Lissu underwent emergency surgery and survived. Lissu has been arrested several times before for openly criticising the government of President John Pombe Magufuli, often on charges of disturbing public order and insulting the president. On 22nd August, Lissu was arrested for allegedly insulting the president, and was released on bail two days later. Likewise, authorities arbitrarily arrested other opposition members. According to The East African, the opposition Chadema party said that more than 400 its members have been arrested and questioned, with some being charged in court, since President Magufuli came to power in October 2015. The opposition has called on the East African Community to intervene. In a statement issued on 22nd August, the Legal and Human Rights Centre condemned the harassment of opposition members, saying that the string of arrests constitutes a violation of political and civic rights.

Leading elephant conservationist, Wayne Lotter, was shot dead on 16th August in Masaka district in Dar es Salaam. Lotter, director and founder of PAMS Foundation, was active in the fight against poaching and the international ivory trafficking networks. He received numerous death threats before his death. On 9th October, three people were charged with the murder of Lotter.

Immigration officers questioned Onesmo Ole Ngurumwa, national coordinator of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition, for one hour in his office over his nationality. Ngurumwa said that the officers requested some documentation, including his birth certificate, and they did not explain the grounds for the interrogation. He has been harassed before: on 3rd June, Ngurumwa was detained for a short period in an effort to hinder the launch of a book that illustrates the tactics used to remove human rights defenders from their positions in higher educational institutions. 

In a public notice issued on 9th August by the Registrar of NGOs, under the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, all registered NGOs operating in Tanzania were mandated to undergo a 'verification process' between 21st August 2017 and 4th September 2017, which was later extended to 20th September. NGOs failing to comply or cooperate would face de-registration. Meanwhile, the review of new applications from NGOs has been suspended until 30th November 2017. Concerns remain over the verification process, including the lack of consultations with local NGOs in the planning of the process; the cumbersome amount of documentation required of NGOs, including the proof of payment of annual fees and receipts since registration; and the requirement of a letter of recommendation from a Community Development Officer, which could be problematic, especially for NGOs working on rights and governance and that may have been critical of the the government in the past. According to information received by CIVICUS from groups on the ground, there are unconfirmed reports that some organisations have not been verified, although it is not yet clear how many and the reasons thereof. 


On 19th September 2017, Director of Information Services Dr. Abbasi announced the decision to ban the publication of the newspaper Mwanahalisi for a period of 24 months, using section 50 of the Media Services Act, which allows authorities to shut down media organisations that publish 'seditious publications'. The ban is based on an article published on 18th September entitled "Tumuombee nani, Magufuli au Tundu Lissu?" in Kiswahili ("For whom should we pray for - Magufuli or Tundu Lisso?"), the content of which - according to Dr. Abbasi - was an insult to the president. Abbasi further reiterated that the newspaper had been warned many times for its publication of content deemed "seditious". The ban on Mwanahalisi newspaper follows the June 2017 ban on Mawio newspaper, as reported previously on the Monitor.

On 25th August, the trial against Maxence Melo Mubyazi and Micke William, founders of the whistle-blowing website Jamiiforums, commenced. Both face charges under the Cybercrimes Act for refusing to reveal the IP address of people that posted on their website.  The hearing was then adjourned.

In September 2017, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) published the Electronic and Postal Communication (Online Content) 2017 bill, which will be enforced once approved by the Minister of Information. The bill gives the TCRA "unfettered powers to police the web". It contains strict regulations for producers of online content, including social media users and bloggers. Online content producers and social media users can be held liable for materials deemed “indecent, obscene, hate speech, extreme violence or material that will offend or incite others, cause annoyance, threaten harm or evil, encourage or incite crime, or lead to public disorder”. Online radio, TV and other digital platforms including bloggers and website managers, will need to apply for a separate registration with the TCRA, while they will be required to ban anonymous users from their platforms. The new regulations carry a fine of five million Tanzanian Shillings (2,300 USD) and a minimum of 12 months in prison for those not abiding by the regulations. 

In their joint situation note entitled "Tanzania: Freedom of Expression in Peril", FIDH and the Legal and Human Rights Centre outline the restrictions on freedom of expression in Tanzania in the past two years through the adoption of and use of restrictive laws, including the 2015 Cybercrimes Act, the 2015 Statistics Act, the 2016 Media Services Act and the 2016 Access to Information Act. In about a year, at least eight media houses or radios have been banned and at least 27 journalists and human right defenders have been arbitrarily arrested, detained or have faced judicial harassment.