President Suluhu acts on promise to expand media freedoms, arbitrary arrests of journalists continue

President Suluhu acts on promise to expand media freedoms, arbitrary arrests of journalists continue
Tanzania's president Samia Suluhu

Association

President Suluhu meets exiled opposition leader

On 16th February 2022, President Samia Suluhu met with Tundu Lissu, the exiled opposition leader living in Belgium. Lissu expressed his desire to return home but requested Hassan's safety assurance. Additionally, he expressed concern over other opposition politicians who fled Tanzania to seek asylum overseas after their lives were threatened during former President John Magufuli's rule. Furthermore, Lissu appealed to the President to release Freeman Mbowe, the Chadema Party's national chairperson, and three other party members facing terrorist and economic sabotage charges.

Opposition party chairman released from detention

During the trial against Freeman Mbowe, chairperson of the country's main opposition party Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Swahili for Party of Democracy and Progress), popularly known as Chadema, the 13th prosecution witness in the case, a Mr Swila, claimed to be ill while being cross-examined by defence counsel. As a result, the High Court judge adjourned the case to 14th February 2022. The judge instructed the lawyer to ensure Mr Swila attended the proceedings on the 14th or bring in other witnesses. Two other witnesses fell ill during cross-examination on separate occasions. As previously reported by the Monitor, Mbowe was charged with terrorism-related and economic crimes.

On 18th February 2022, the High Court ruled that the case against Freeman Mbowe would proceed. Judge Joachim Tiganga stated that "without going into details," the court believed the prosecution's evidence was sufficient to require the defendants to respond to five of the six allegations against them. The verdict came after the state prosecutor unexpectedly finished filing evidence against the Chadema party leader on 15th February 2022.

On 4th March 2022 however, the Director of Public Prosecutions submitted a motion to dismiss the terrorist accusations against Freeman Mbowe and his three co-accused in the High Court Division of Corruption and Economic Sabotage Offences. Mbowe and the three other opposition members were freed. According to his lawyer, the release was unexpected; "we did not know it would happen; we had spent the whole day in prison yesterday preparing Mr Mbowe and his co-accused for their defence."

Planned eviction of Maasai community sparks protests in Tanzania and UK

On 28th February 2022, Masaai residents gathered in Endulen, Oloirobi and Olbalbal to protest the Tanzanian government's intention to evict 167,000 Maasai from the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA) and Loliondo to make way for trophy hunting and elite tourists. The residents blocked the entrance to the NCA, a well-known UNESCO World Heritage Site in northern Tanzania, as part of their protest. Separately, the Maasai residents received solidarity from activists outside the country.UK-based youth activists gathered in front of the Tanzania High Commission and at the London and Edinburgh offices of Trailfinders and Kuoni travel agencies – both working in Northern Tanzania – in support of Maasai protesters. The activists held placards with slogans such as ‘No Tourism where Maasai are Evicted’.

Expression

Legislative amendments approved to expand media freedom

In an effort to protect journalists and the media industry, the government plans to amend the Media Services Acts (2016). The Minister for information, communication and information technology, Nape Nnauye, stated that President Suluhu approved the amendment of the Act and the ministry was ready to "act accordingly". The Media Services Act has previously been criticised for giving the government arbitrary powers that limit independent media and effectively censor them. The Act creates strict rules for journalist accreditation and gives broad oversight powers to government agencies to ban, suspend and fine newspapers.

New licences issued to newspapers banned during Maghufuli era

In other developments, the government issued new publishing licenses to four newspapers, namely, Mwanahalisi, Mawio, Mseto and Tanzania Daima, which were banned during late President John Magufuli's rule. According to Nape Nnauye, Hassan ordered the reinstatement of the papers' licences as part of her vow to protect press freedom.

Arbitrary arrests of journalists a remaining concern

In less positive developments on media freedom, eight journalists were arrested in the first two months of 2022. On 4th February 2021, Ngorongoro police officers arrested six journalists covering a public meeting organised by the residents to discuss threats of forced eviction (see above in peaceful assembly section). The residents invited journalists to amplify their message on media platforms. However, the authorities held and harassed the six journalists after the meeting and released them later. The Tanzanian Human Rights Defenders Coalition believes that this incident resulted in self-censorship, as the information gathered in the meeting was not publicly shared. In a statement issued by the Coalition, "the six journalists feared to disclose any condition given to them in relation to information gathered from the community meeting".

On 24th February 2022, police officers in Arusha unlawfully arrested and held Global TV journalist Kolumba Victor and Kusaga Online TV journalist Alphonce Kusaga. The arrests were made after the journalists interviewed citizens who reported an incident where local security guards and a policeman allegedly harassed them and looted their money.