Tanzania: Newspaper MwanaHalisi banned for sedition

ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned over the decision to ban weekly MwanaHalisi for two years, starting from 19 September 2017, on allegations of ‘unethical reporting’ and ‘endangering national security’, regarding a published story asking, ‘whom should Tanzanians pray for, the President or Tundu Lissu, a Tanzanian lawyer and opposition politician.’

The article called for prayers for Mr Lissu who had been shot several times by unidentified assailants in his stomach and legs on 8 September 2017. He has been arrested six times in 2017, including most recently in August 2017, for ‘insulting the President.’ The newspaper has been targetted by the government previously, and in 2012 was shut down indefinitelyby the government on similar grounds under the Newspapers Act, which was replaced in 2016 by the Media Services Act. The latest ban is under Section 50 of the Media Services Act, which gives officials powers to shut down media organizations that publish ‘seditious publications’.

Announcing the ban, the state-run Tanzania Information Services reported “The government has suspended publication and circulation of the weekly MwanaHalisi newspaper for 24 months … due to repeated unethical reporting, publishing fabricated and inciting articles and endangering national security.”

“It is worrying that the Tanzanian government has for the second time in 2017 used the Media Services Act of 2016 to silence any criticism of government. We call for the immediate repeal of this law and reversal of these unjustified and disproportinate bans,” said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Director.

In June 2017, Mawio, a privately owned weekly newspaper was banned for two years under Section 59 of the Media Services Act, which allows authorities to “prohibit or otherwise sanction the publication of any content that jeopardizes national security or public safety.”

Tanzania has regularly closed media outlets perceived to be publishing stories that are “anti-government”. Since September 2016 at least eight media outlets have been the targets of harassment or closure and at least 25 journalists were either arrested or harassed by the government and security forces for publishing articles perceived to be anti-government.

Henry Maina added, “The series of recent closures of media outlets, along with the specific targetting of MwanaHalisi over the years, amounts to a clear agenda of intimidation of independent media and silencing of dissent. A free and independent media is critical to democracy and the free flow of information, and the banning of entire media outlets on such a regular basis shows an alarming disregard for the right to freedom of expression.”

ARTICLE 19 urges the government to reverse its crackdown on independent media, and to respect and uphold media freedom and the right to freedom of expression and information, as set out in the Tanzanian Constitution, as well as in international law. We call for facilitation of an enabling environment for the Tanzanian media to perform its critical role as a public watchdog, including through the immediate reform of the Media Services Act to bring it into line with international standards. The Tanzanian government must not see diverse public and media discourse as a threat to the country’s security, but instead as a vital element of a healthy democracy.

For more information, please contact Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa at henry@article19.org or call on +254 727 862230