Tanzania: Sedition Offences in the Newspapers Act and Penal Code

In November 2014, ARTICLE 19 reviewed the Tanzanian legislation on sedition with international standards on freedom of expression, in particular the 1976 Newspapers Act and the Penal Code, Cap 16, 1945 of Tanzania.

The reform of the Newspaper Act is prompted by the current constitutional reform in Tanzania: it proposes to repeal the criminal liability for defamation and false news; it also modifies the sedition offences by amending both the Penal Code and the Newspapers Act.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the proposal for the decriminalisation of defamation and false news as it is in line with international freedom of expression standards and follows the global trend towards decriminalisation. This reform is urgent for two key reasons:

  • First, the sedition legislation is among those laws used against journalists in Tanzania to restrict those critical of the government and other institutions;
  • Second, the need for the reform has been highlighted by international bodies that recommended an overhaul of the Tanzanian legislation and practice to ensure protection of freedom of expression and to prevent any intimidation of journalists.

ARTICLE 19 finds that the current legislation fails to meet the international standards in several aspects: the sedition offences are vague and broadly defined, failing to meet the requirement of legal certainty; the prohibitions of sedition do not pursue legitimate aims and the types of restrictions and penalties they impose are not necessary in a democratic society.

ARTICLE 19 recommends that the Tanzanian Government abolishes all sedition offences in their entirety. We also call on civil society and other stakeholders to advocate for the elimination of such provisions from the Tanzanian legislation.