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Tanzania: Newspapers banned amid increasing hostility towards free speech



02 October 2013

ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned about a ban on two newspapers amid an intensifying crackdown on press freedom in Tanzania. Publication of the Mwananchi and Mtanzania newspapers has been suspended for 14 days and 90 days respectively. These bans follow a series of attacks against journalists in the country.

“It is now very clear that media freedom is under attack in Tanzania. The government crackdown on freedom expression has been consistent. It must cease. Not only this, but the government must actively protect the media’s right to freedom of expression in line with international standards” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

The Mwananchi and Mtanzania titles were suspended on Friday 27 September 2013. Both newspapers have taken a critical stance towards government policy in recent months; each receiving a number of warnings about their critical reporting.

According to the statement issued by Mr. Assah Mwambene (Director for Information Services in the Ministry of Information, Culture and Sports) both newspapers have been suspended “due to their trend of publishing news stories and articles that provoke incitement and hostility, with the intention of influencing the citizens to lose confidence in State organs, and thus endanger the peace and cohesion that prevails in the country.”

The government cited two stories to justify the Mwananchi ban: the first concerned information leaked about a new government salary structure (17 July 2013) and the second police security operations at a mosque and the use of dogs (17 August 2013).

The government cited three examples to justify the Mtanzania ban: including stories published under the headlines “Bloody Presidency” (20 March 2013); “a revolution is unavoidable” (12 June 2013); and “the government stinks of blood” (18 September 2013). These articles included criticisms of the government’s response to alleged acts of terrorism.
The notices issued by the government include an explicit warning to other media organisations to “enforce ethics, and to give national interests and as well as patriotic obligations, high level attention.” The notice makes clear that serious action, including bans, will be used again in the future.

“Banning any media outlet, even temporarily, is one of the most extreme forms of prior censorship. That is especially the case where it is imposed unilaterally by an administrative body without any judicial oversight. Restrictions on freedom of expression, including newspaper bans, can never be justified to protect vague interests such as public confidence in the state or social cohesion” added Maina.

Criminal liability of any publication or individual, including for incitement to violence, hostility or discrimination, must be decided by an independent judiciary in accordance with international standards on due process and the right to freedom of expression and information. Sanctions must be proportionate, and must never include a ban or suspension of a publication.


The two bans come 14 months after the government issued an indefinite ban on the publication of another newspaper (Mwanahalisi) under section 25(1) of the 1976 Newspaper Act. 

In the past year there has been an escalation in the number of attacks against journalists in the country. During this period, two journalists (Daudi Mwangosi and Issa Ngumba) have been brutally killed and a number of others physically assaulted, including Absalom Kibanda (Chair of the Tanzania Editors Forum) who lost his left eye as a result of an attack in March 2013. Despite personal assurances from President Kikwete to bring the perpetrators to justice, investigations have not led to the arrest of any suspect.

“Attacking media freedom is to attack the very bedrock of democracy. This is deeply troubling at a time when Tanzania is drafting a new constitution. The new Constitution must protect freedom of expression. Depriving people of vital information at such a defining moment in the country’s history denies them the opportunity to fully participate in shaping their own future” added Maina.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the government to:

• Immediately lift the bans on the Mwananchi and Mtanzania newspapers and provide redress for the violation of these newspapers’ rights, including paying damages for any losses caused to the publications;

• Stop abusing archaic legislation to stifle media freedom, including the Newspaper Act 1976;

• Consult with all stakeholders, including civil society organisations, to ensure that the pending media and access to information laws comply with international standards on freedom of expression and information;

• Concentrate efforts to effectively investigate the murders of Daudi Mwangosi and Issa Ngumba and the attack against Absalom Kibanda, ensuring that the perpetrators responsible for these crimes are brought to justice; and make sure that there is effective redress afforded where possible to the victim / and their surviving families.

• Ensure that the drafting of a new Constitution provides robust protection for the right to freedom of expression and information, in line with international and regional human rights standards.


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