On 3 January 2023, Tanzania’s president Samia Suluhu Hassan lifted the ban on opposition political rallies imposed by her predecessor, the late Pombe Magufuli. While this is an important step in the right direction, more still needs to be done to ensure that the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly for everyone is not only respected but also promoted in Tanzania.
After ascending to power, President Hassan, in her inaugural speech to parliament, committed to defending democracy and fundamental freedoms. ‘She must live up to those promises,’ noted Mugambi Kiai, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Regional Director.
Under the leadership of the late president John Pombe Magufuli, in 2015, Tanzania witnessed a decline in respect for freedom of expression, association and assembly. The attacks on these rights manifested in the form of harassment and intimidation of journalists, human rights defenders, civil society organisations, opposition members and critics, aided by implementation of new repressive laws and the abuse of existing repressive laws. The government often used laws, such as the 2015 Cybercrimes Act and the Media Service Act 2016, to censor and/or crack down on critical opposition members, journalists and other civil society actors.
In the run up to the general elections in October 2020, President Magufuli imposed further restrictions, including a crackdown on media and civil society organisations perceived to be critical of the government. Amendments to the Political Parties Act and Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act further undermined civic space and the ability of people to campaign and seek justice.
After President Hassan’s inauguration, there were positive developments, including the lifting of bans on media houses imposed by her predecessor, unfreezing of the bank accounts of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Commision, and the dropping of charges against Freeman Mbowe, the national chairperson for the political party CHADEMA, and three colleagues who were charged over allegations of terrorism-related crimes and detained for close to seven months.
While this is a commendable step in the right direction, the leadership of President Hassan still has a long way to go with regard to the respect for human rights, as well as complying with its human rights obligations, especially freedom of expression, association and assembly. We therefore call on the government to:
- Review and amend repressive laws and policies that have been/ are still being used to crack down on critical voices, including the Cybercrimes Act (2015), the Media Service Act (2016), the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations (2020), and bring them in line with international human rights standards.
- Ensure the full respect for the freedom of the media, including by immediately refraining from imposing closures, bans or fines on media outlets.
- End the harassment and prosecution of journalists exercising their right to freedom of expression, as well as ensure the prompt, thorough, independent, and effective investigation of attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and others targeted for their expression; and
- Create an enabling and safe environment conducive to the work of all civil society, including by ceasing the harassment of civil society organisations.