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Country in Focus: Tanzania

Population GDP/Capita USD Capital City 2018 XpA Scores
56,318,000 1,051 Dodoma Freedom of Expression: 0.43
ICCPR ratified 1976 In 2018, Tanzania sits within the 3rd quartile. Civic Space: 0.44

Constitution of Tanzania (United Republic of) 1977 (revised 2005)  CHAPTER 1, PART III, SECTION 3, 18, Freedom of Expression

Every person –

  1. has a freedom of opinion and expression of his ideas;
  2. has a right to seek, receive and, or disseminate information regardless of national boundaries;
  3. has the freedom to communicate and a freedom with protection from interference from his communication;
  4. has a right to be informed at all times of various important events of life and activities of the people and also of issues of importance to the society.


Digital: 0.36
Media: 0.37
Protection: 0.43
Transparency: 0.47

Prior to the 2015 elections, the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party allowed relatively free media coverage, open campaigning by the united opposition coalition, and political debates.[1]

Once the election was won, President John Magufuli – known as ‘the bulldozer’ – introduced increasingly authoritarian tactics into government, including stifling media with legislation, punishing citizens who voiced their opinions online, and discrediting dissenting voices of any kind.[2]

Tanzania saw its most significant drop in its overall freedom of expression score between 2015 and 2016.

Figure 11: Freedom of expression scores for Tanzania, 2000–18

Speaking up, but beaten down

The situation in Tanzania is spiralling, with attacks on journalists, the opposition, and human rights defenders. The government and security forces routinely perform arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force, and intimidation in various forms.

In April, activists called for protest to bring attention to this deterioration. The government immediately declared any such protest illegal, even threatening that protesters would be ‘beaten like dogs’ if they took to the streets. Seven were arrested for their role in organising the protest days before it happened, and nine marchers were arrested.[3]

Political opposition silenced by violence and crushed by legislation

Opposition parties faced intensifying violence and intimidation throughout the year. In early 2018, two officials from the opposition Chadema party were murdered with machetes. Chadema leaders allege that the ruling party planned both murders.

In February, two leading opposition politicians – Joseph Mbilinyi and Emmanuel Masonga – were charged with ‘insulting’ the President during a political rally, and each sentenced to five months imprisonment.[4]

The government arrested several high-profile opposition figures during the year, including the leader of the Alliance for Change and Transparency party, Zitto Kabwe, who was arrested for incitement after claiming that more than 100 people died in fights between herders and the police in his home district – a figure the government disputed.

Abuse and torture of suspects in custody is common. In March, a young man in Mbeya died shortly after being released from police custody, where he was allegedly beaten, and in April the brother of a Chadema (opposition) lawmaker was stabbed to death while detained.

As of August 2018, CCM had successfully co-opted up to 100 opposition politicians since 2015, which opposition parties claim was due to bribery.[5]

A draft Bill to amend the Political Parties Act was introduced in October, which would prohibit parties from engaging in ‘activism’ – a provision that could criminalise many legitimate party activities.[6]

Electronic and postal communications (online)

The ruling party is increasingly monitoring and penalising citizens who speak out against the government. As with Tanzania’s overall freedom of expression score, the biggest drop in scores happened between 2014 and 2016.

Figure 12: 

Tanzania’s Electronic and Postal Communications (Online) Regulations 2018 came into effect in May, which required online publishers – including bloggers and podcasters – to pay about 920 USD in registration and licence fees. This new law compounds the hostile legal environment that the Cybercrimes Act 2015 and Media Services Act (November 2016) created. The Tanzanian Communications Regulatory Authority is now able to take action against non-compliance with the regulations, including ordering the removal of content.

Bloggers are required to provide a huge level of detail – from owners’ citizenship status to staff members’ qualifications – to obtain an operating license. Bloggers convicted of disobeying the new rules could be fined around 2,200 USD, imprisoned for a minimum of 12 months, or both.[7] Many popular sites have been forced to close due to the costs and registration requirements.[8]

Tanzania’s authorities also established a legal monopoly on statistical truths in 2018 by amending the 2015 Statistics Act to prohibit the publication of statistical information that is not approved or does not comply with the National Bureau of Statistics’ methodology. Those who challenge official statistics can now be prosecuted, facing a fine or three years in prison.[9]

EACJ orders end of Mseto ban, but bans and harassment persist

Though the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) ordered an end to the ban on the Mseto newspaper, four other papers were heavily banned during 2018, and bans on several others persisted.[10]

Mseto had been banned since 2016, but the EACJ ruled that the minister had acted unreasonably, unlawfully, and disproportionately by imposing the ban ‘whimsically’ and on the basis of his own opinion. It ordered the minister to annul the order and allow the newspaper to resume publication.[11]

Micke William and Maxence Melo Mubyazi – the journalists who run whistleblower website JamiiForums – were charged under the Cybercrimes Act, accused of obstructing justice for failing to disclose the identities of persons who posted details of allegedly corrupt officials on the website. There have been over 40 adjournments of the case, most recently on 3 May 2018.[12]

In January 2018, five television stations were found guilty of, and fined for, contravening the 2005 Broadcasting Services (Content) Regulations for covering a local human rights organisation’s report, which detailed human rights abuses during ward by-elections in November 2017. The coverage was deemed ‘seditious’ news that could endanger peace and national security;[13] Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) Committee Chairman, Joseph Mapunda, said they had broadcast the information ‘without confirming the other side’. The regulations do not actually contain a provision on sedition, but no station appealed.[14]

CSOs attacked and harassed

Angela Quintal (Programme Coordinator of the Africa chapter of the Committee to Protect Journalists – CPJ) and Muthoki Mumo (CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative) were detained, and forced to leave Tanzania, for spying and violating visa conditions. The two were in Tanzania to investigate the disappearance, in 2017, of journalist Azory Gwanda, who the state has made no serious attempt to find.

Quintal and Mumo were initially questioned at their hotel and later taken to an unknown location, where they were detained, questioned further, and had their passports temporarily confiscated. During their detention, Quintal and Mumo’s phones and computers were also seized, and the authorities made repeated attempts to hack into Quintal’s email.[15]

When research organisation Twaweza published a survey revealing that President John Magufuli’s approval rating had dropped to 55% – the lowest recorded rating for a President in the country’s history – authorities threatened legal action.[16] Weeks after the survey’s publication, authorities confiscated the passport of the organisation’s executive director, Aidan Eyakuze, and banned him from leaving the country.[17]

Homophobia and violence become official policy

Homophobic sentiments, which President Magufuli himself fuelled, have been echoed in violent actions against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer (LGBTQ+) community.

In October, Regional Commissioner of Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda, announced his plans to form an inter-agency taskforce – comprising members of the TCRA, the police, and the media – with a mandate to identify and arrest LGBTQ+ people. Tanzania’s government distanced itself from Makonda’s announcement,[18] but ‘homosexual acts’ remain illegal, and punishable by up to 30 years in prison, under a colonial-era law.

Police sexually assault the majority of LGBTQ+ people and sex workers who are detained in raids and ‘sweeps’ of the street, which occur nightly across the country. Often, police-perpetrated sexual assault occurs on the street, in police vehicles, or during the first hours of arrest.[19] Of more than 80 interviewed by Front Line Defenders, the police had severely beaten the majority, subjected a number to degrading and inhumane treatment, and raped or sexually assaulted all but two.



[1] Freedom House, In Ethiopia, a Cautionary Tale for Tanzanian Democracy Activists, 24 April 2018, available at

[2] Freedom House, In Ethiopia, a Cautionary Tale for Tanzanian Democracy Activists, 24 April 2018, available at

[3] Front Line Defenders, Open Letter to Tanzanian President John Magufuli Over Rapid Decline in Human Rights, 10 May 2018, available at

[4] ARTICLE 19, Tanzania: Opposition Politicians Jailed for ‘Insulting’ President, 1 March 2018, available at

[5] Freedom House, ‘Tanzania’, Freedom in the World 2019, available at

[6] Freedom House, ‘Tanzania’, Freedom in the World 2019, available at

[7] Abdi Latif Dahir, ‘You now have to pay the government over $900 a year to be a blogger in Tanzania’, Quartz Africa, 10 April 2018, available at

[8] Abdi Latif Dahir, ‘Tanzania’s repressive online laws have forced the ‘Swahili Wikileaks’ to close’, Quartz Africa, 11 June 2018, available at

[9] Nuzulack Dausen, ‘Tanzania law punishing critics of statistics “deeply concerning”: World Bank’, Reuters, 3 October 2018, available at

[10] Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2019, available at; see also Zaheena Rasheed, ‘Tanzania Daima ban adds to press freedom concerns’, Al Jazeera, 25 October 2017, available at

[11] Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University, Mseto v. Attorney General, 21 June 2018, available at

[12] Front Line Defenders, Open Letter to Tanzanian President John Magufuli Over Rapid Decline in Human Rights, 10 May 2018, available at

13] ARTICLE 19, Tanzania: Communications Regulator Fines TV Stations for Broadcasting ‘Seditious’ Content, 19 January 2019, available at

[14] Freedom House, In Ethiopia, a Cautionary Tale for Tanzanian Democracy Activists, 24 April 2018, available at

[15] Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ Outraged at Tanzania’s Treatment of its Africa Program Team, 21 November 2018, available at

[16] BBC Africa, ‘Tanzania research group threatened over Magufuli survey’, The East African, 11 July 2018, available at

[17] Khalifa Said, ‘“Tanzania government has seized my passport”: Twaweza director’, The Citizen, 3 August 2018, available at–says-Twaweza-director-in-Tanzania/1840340-4695572-2ijnfhz/index.html

[18] ARTICLE 19, Tanzania: LGBTQ Activists Arrested and Held Without Charge During Official Anti-Gay Campaign in Dar es Salaam, 8 November 2018, available at

[19] Front Line Defenders, Tanzania: Targeting of LGBT Defenders, 8 November 2018, available at