Tanzania: President Magufuli must respect media rights and freedom of expression

ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the continuous threats and attacks on media freedom in Tanzania escalated by President John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania and other public officials.  Media houses, journalists and artists are currently operating under fear of closure, harassment or incarceration for expressing themselves. We call upon the President and the authorities in Tanzania to desist from threatening media houses, journalists and other media workers whose rights and freedoms are protected and guaranteed under the Constitution. Such acts are against national, regional and international laws that promote, protect and defend freedom of expression and access to information, to which Tanzania subscribes to.

In the most recent spate of such attacks, on 25 March, rapper Emmanuel Elibariki, a.k.a Nay wa Mitego, was arrested at a hotel in Morogoro, near Dar es Salaam, for allegedly ‘insulting’ the president in his newly released song, ‘Wapo’. The police have claimed the lyrics “malign the government”. The impugned Swahili song loosely translates as referring to a doctor who doesn’t listen to advice or accept criticism.

Elibariki’s arrest follows a recent warning to the media on 24 March by the President: “I want to tell media owners, be careful, and watch it! If you think you have that kind of freedom… not to that extent,” Magufuli said during the swearing in ceremony of Harrison Mwakyembe, the new Minister of Information, who was appointed soon after he dismissed Nape Nnauye, the former Minister of Information on 23 March.

Nape was dismissed after he criticised the actions of Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner Paul Makonda, who stormed into the offices of Clouds FM Media Group, one of the country’s main private broadcasters on 17 March with six armed men to demand the station air a video making claims about a popular local pastor. Nape, who had earlier ordered a probe into Makonda’s actions, was blocked by police officers later that day from holding a press conference at a hotel in Dar es Salaam.

During the swearing in of the new Information Minister, President Magufuli said that his government would not allow a few individuals to destabilise his country’s economy and ordered the newly sworn-in Information Minister to clamp down on media organisations that publish or broadcast material deemed to incite unrest.

Since his election in 2015, President Magufuli has ordered the arrest of his critics, and the shutting down of newspapers and broadcast media.

The Constitution of the Republic of Tanzania, which is founded on the principles of freedom and justice, provides under Article 8(1)(d) for its people to participate in the affairs of their Government, specifically safeguarding their expression and access to information rights under Article 18(1) and also the right of people to freedom from interference with their communications. Article 18(2) further stipulates that every citizen has the right to be informed of events in the country and in the world at large which are of importance to the lives and activities of the people and society.

“ARTICLE 19 urges the President to ensure the protection of free speech, including criticism, and calls upon the Tanzanian Government to create an independent body to specifically investigate abuses by its officials against freedom of expression and media rights. It is imperative that the President and government adhere to constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression, media freedom and access to information, as stipulated in the Tanzanian Constitution as well as international law. We further ask the President to end the dismissal of government ministers for defending freedom of expression, and instead publicly condemn actions which restrict media freedom,” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.