Government tightens reins on civic freedoms during the last year

This report covers civic space updates and incidents reported between October 2018 and December 2019.


On 29th October 2018, Dar es Salaam’s Regional Commissioner, Paul Makonda, announced plans to form a government taskforce to hunt down people believed to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI), due to begin its “work” on 5th November. On 4th November, the Government of Tanzania, through its Ministry of Foreign Affairs, distanced itself from Makonda’s remarks, terming them “personal opinion.”

On 31st October 2018, Zitto Kabwe, a leader of the Alliance for Change and Transparency opposition movement in Tanzania, was detained for questioning following a press conference in which he accused the police of killing dozens of residents of Kigoma, where he is a legislator, during an operation to address illegal grazing.Two pastoralist land rights defenders were arrested in December 2018. Supuk Ole Maoi and Clinton Mshao were arrested by police in Loliondo and remained in police custody for a week before being released on bail. Violent forced land evictions of the indigenous Maasai have taken place in the region for more than a decade, and in September 2018 the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) awarded a major victory to four Maasai villages fighting for their rights.

On 25th April 2019, Tanzanian authorities deported Ugandan human rights activist Dr. Wairagala Wakabi, the Executive Director of the Uganda-based Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). According to the statement by CIPESA, the authorities detained Wakabi at the airport upon arrival, claiming that they were interrogating him to determine whether he could be granted entry into Tanzania, only to deport him back to Uganda.

On 28th April 2019, Maneno Mbunda, an advocate with the Tanzania National Park Authority, was abducted in Arusha by unknown people and went missing for seven days. After human rights groups and the Tanganyika Law Society inquired as to his whereabouts, authorities issued a press statement declaring that he was in police custody. According to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the advocate and nine others were being accused of economic sabotage after they allegedly deceived the court on the price of elephant trophies. According to his family, the car that was used to abduct him had no number plates, which led to speculation that the alleged kidnappers were police officers in civilian clothes.

On 6th May 2019, Mdude Nyagali, an opposition party activist and HRD was abducted in Mbeya and found four days later tortured and brutalised. Nyagali was abducted on leaving his office by three men who shoved him into a car which sped off as they beat him until he lost consciousness. The activist said he believed that his abduction was related to his political activism.

On 27th June 2019, Parliament passed the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments No. 3 of 2019) into law, which amends eight laws including the Non-Governmental Organisations Act and largely restricts their right to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. The law was only made public on 19th June 2019, and debated under a certificate of urgency, which did not allow for meaningful participation by civil society, who hurriedly submitted petitions to parliament after being invited to give feedback on the Bill the same day it was being debated. According to Amnesty International, amendments to the Companies Act allow the Registrar to deregister companies at will for, among other reasons, associating with or supporting the activities of NGOs. The proposed amendments to the NGO Act gives wide discretionary powers to suspend organisations and evaluate and investigate their operations. The law will also require these organisations, including community-based and self-help groups, to publish their annual audited financial reports in mainstream media, imposing a cost burden that could bankrupt small grassroots organisations.

Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes said:

It is appalling that members of parliament have forsaken the people they represent and rushed to pass amendments that will further clamp down on human rights in the country.

On 17th August 2019, 40 African civil society campaigners attending the summit of the Southern African Development Community in Dar es Salaam were intimidated, questioned and warned by authorities over an alleged security incident. During the summit, delegates from South Africa held a commemoration of the seventh anniversary of South Africa's deadly Marikana mine massacre on 12th August 2016 where 34 striking miners were killed by police. The delegates sang the South African National Anthem and held a moment of silence, but it was the wording on the placards they were carrying which is believed to have led to police intervention at the event. Some placards stated, “stop killing our people”. It is believed the police may have thought that the delegates were planning to hold a demonstration. Some of the delegates were summoned to the police station that evening but were let go with a warning. Some also had their hotel rooms searched by police who were supposedly looking for materials that were a security threat.

In November 2019, President Magufuli’s ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) won 99% of seats contested in local elections, which included more than 16,000 key positions in the running of villages, towns and cities across the country. More than half of the opposition candidates were allegedly told they could not stand because of spelling mistakes, blank spaces on forms, and other bureaucratic errors. The US and UK embassies said the elections were marred with irregularities and questioned the results, noting that election officials overwhelmingly disqualified opposition candidates and refused to give accreditation to election observers. A few hours after these statements were released, Tanzania’s government spokesman issued a warning to local journalists about quoting foreign organisations and representatives in their reporting. 

On 2nd December 2019, the Tanzanian government withdrew the right of individuals and NGOs to directly file cases against it at the Arusha-based African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Tanzania has the highest number of cases filed by individuals and NGOs in the African Court; out of 70 judgments issued by September 2019, 28 decisions were on Tanzania. The move is the latest sign of shrinking civic space, and growing hostility towards human rights and human rights defenders in the country

On 9th December 2019, President Magufuli pardoned more than 5,533 prisoners as the country marked its 58th anniversary of independence, in a move aimed at reducing congestion in prisons. The group accounts for about 15% of all prisoners in the country.


In September 2018, lawmakers passed amendments to the Statistics Act that would impose fines, at least three years jail time, or both, on anyone who questioned the accuracy of official figures. The attorney general said the changes were needed to enforce standards. The World Bank said it was deeply concerned about new Tanzanian legislation which would punish anyone who questions official statistics, saying the law would undermine the production of useful and high-quality data.

In October 2018, the government amended the NGO Act, which now requires civil society organisations to publish information about the sources of funds or resources obtained; expenditure of the funds or resources obtained; purpose of funds or resources obtained; and activities to be carried from funds or resources. In case an NGO raises more than USD8,703, they are now required to release biannual information about the raised funds and expenditure. This information is required to be published in a well circulated newspaper or any other media which is easily accessed by the beneficiaries of the project.

In the second week of November 2018, at least ten men were arrested for allegedly conducting a same-sex marriage ceremony on the island of Zanzibar. Speaking to BBC News, the police said that they made the arrests following reports by members of the public.

On 18th November 2018, the Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the release of Angela Quintal, CPJ's Africa programme coordinator, and Muthoki Mumo, CPJ's sub-Saharan Africa representative, from detention in Tanzania, after they travelled to the country to understand the challenges facing the Tanzanian press and to inform the global public. The two were detained at their hotel in Dar es Salaam by immigration and security officials, had their phones and computers seized and were interrogated about their work in an unknown location.

In 2019, the crackdown on press freedom continued as the Tanzanian government suspended the newspaper ‘The Citizen’ on 26th February 2019 arguing that it was spreading false news. This followed the publication of an article about the depreciation of the Tanzanian shilling against the dollar, which the registrar of newspaper said was false news published without following due procedure and financial standards set by the Bank of Tanzania.

On 28th March 2019, the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) ruled that multiple sections of the Media Services Act restrict press freedom and freedom of expression, and several civil society groups called on the government to repeal the act. Some of the provisions affected included those on sedition, criminal defamation, and false news publication.

CPJ's sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo said;

"We welcome the East African Court of Justice's ruling as an important bulwark against the erosion of press freedom in Tanzania and the East African region… We now urge the government to repeal the controversial Media Services Act, and through an inclusive reform process, promulgate a law that safeguards freedom of the press."

In May 2019, in response to the letter sent by 38 CSOs calling for the HRC to raise concern over the human rights situation in the country, the government stated that the situation is not as bad as it is being portrayed by CSOs. They further said that they would file their own report on the human rights situation in the country at the UN Human Rights Council.

On 29th July 2019, Tanzanian police arrested freelance journalist Erick Kabendera from his home and refused to allow him to contact his lawyer for an extended period. Security forces said that Kabendera was being investigated over his citizenship status (among other crimes), a common tactic used against journalists, HRDs and political opponents in Tanzania. He was later charged with Economic and Organised Crime, Tax Evasion and Money Laundering.In early October, a Tanzanian court postponed his hearing for a sixth time as he appeared limping in court, having been denied medical attention. On 10th September, a Joint Letter of Appeal was sent to President Magufuli by the ACHPR Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa and the Commissioner Rapporteur on human rights regarding the arrest of journalist Erick Kabendera. In November the case was postponed for the eighth time. During the first week of January 2020, a Tanzanian court declined permission to allow Kabendera to attend his mother’s funeral after prosecutors said the court had no jurisdiction to release him. His mother passed away on 31st December 2019 while he was in detention.

On 24th August 2019, Haruna Mapunda, a journalist from Gillybon Online TV was arrested while reporting on an opposition political party opening a new office. The police arrested him and others for illegal assembly. He was released on bail conditionally 48 hours later.

On 7th September 2019, journalist Sebastian Immanuel Atilio was arrested in Mufindi Region in relation to his posts on the Mufindi Media Group, a WhatsApp chat group, which alleged that villagers in Iringa may be forced to relocate to accommodate land claims made by Unilever Tea Tanzania, a private company. Atilio is an administrator of the chat group which has over 170 members including government officials, who discuss social and political issues. On 10th September, Atilio was charged with disseminating false news and working as a journalist without accreditation at the Mufindi district court. He faces up to six years in prison if convicted of publishing false news, and up to five years on the charge of practising journalism without accreditation.

In November 2019, Tanzania's Arts and Information Minister Harrison Mwakyembe dismissed a song by rapper Roma Mkatoliki, which criticised the government – saying the musician "lacks the academic credentials" to question state policies. The song lambasts the government's decision to deploy the army to buy cashew nuts in November 2018, and criticises President Magufuli's push to revive the national airline Air Tanzania.

In early November, authorities in Tanzania suspended female rapper Rosa Ree from performing for six months, saying her recently released music video "went against the country’s’ morals". The body that regulates the arts industry, Baraza la Sanaa la Taifa (Basata), added that the song - Vitamin U - which the rapper performed with her Kenyan musician boyfriend, Timmy Tdat, also contravened its regulations. The suspension means Rosa Ree will also not be allowed to perform outside the country and will have to pay a USD 870 fine.

On 14th November, Tanzanian comedian Idris Sultan apologised to President Magufuli for the face-swap photos he shared during the president's birthday. Sultan was summoned by the police a day after he posted the face-swap photos on his social media accounts and was held under the controversial Cybercrimes Act, which forbids using a computer system to “impersonate” someone else. He says the photo was taken out of context, as he wished it to be a celebration of the President, not an insult. 

On 21st November, Mwananchi Newspaper marked the two-year anniversary of the disappearance of journalist Azory Gwanda with a tree planting ceremony. Journalists, media organisations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, and rights activists have been pushing the authorities to make Gwanda’s case a priority.

In positive developments, Maxence Melo, an online rights activist, was honoured at the 2019 Committee to Protect Journalist Press Awards, for his fight to give youth a voice and offer a space for free expression, as well as his fight against corruption.

Peaceful Assembly

On 26th September 2019, a court blocked two Chadema opposition party politicians from travelling abroad until they were cleared of sedition charges. Vincent Mashinji, Chadema's secretary-general, and MP Esther Matiko are facing charges, along with seven others including Chadema's leader, for participating in a protest in February 2018 during which a 22-year-old student was killed by a stray bullet fired by police.

On 15th October 2019, Human Rights Watch reported that Tanzanian authorities unlawfully coerced more than 200 unregistered asylum seekers into returning to Burundi by threatening to withhold their legal status in Tanzania. Tanzanian authorities then banned commercial activities inside the Nduta refugee camp, in the north-west region, which hosts more than 73,000 Burundian refugees. Critics claim the ban, together with the demolition of the main market, is part of efforts to force them to leave the camp. Tanzania abandoned its plan to forcefully repatriate the refugees in November after the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) raised concerns. Some refugees have been voluntarily repatriated to Burundi, but the majority remain in camps because they fear for their security back home. On 28th October, the UN Refugee Agency repeated its call to ensure that refugees’ return from Tanzania to Burundi remains voluntary and not under pressure, following a bilateral agreement between the two governments in August 2019 to increase return rates.