Attacks on the Press 1999: Tanzania

President Benjamin Mkapa and the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party continued to enforce laws that infringe on free expression. According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa, the government of Tanzania cautioned at least 19 newspapers this year alone, threatening them with legal action over the content of articles. The government itself admitted that it had taken legal action against 50 newspapers between 1987 and 1999 for publishing allegedly false stories and articles deemed socially or politically inflammatory.

During a parliamentary debate in November, Information Minister Seif Khatib threatened to ban newspapers that published articles and cartoons with “negative social impact.” The minister said his government would continue to answer press offenses such as sedition and libel with warnings, suspensions, banning, and complete deregistration, adding that more stringent measures would be taken if necessary.

Media coverage of political tensions on the island of Zanzibar, which has a semi-autonomous political and legal system, incurred official harassment and censorship. In March, free-lance journalist Mwinyi Sadallah ran afoul of the repressive Zanzibar Newspaper Act of 1988 and was banned from working on the island.

Following the October death of Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first democratically elected president and one of Africa’s most revered statesmen, President Mkapa warned that anyone “dreaming about breaking the unity of Tanzania,” generating insecurity, or stirring up tensions “would be dealt with ruthlessly and their activities curtailed.” On November 4, police in Arusha arrested a street vendor for selling cassettes that contained allegedly defamatory statements about Nyerere. Five days later, police arrested the Reverend Christopher Mtikila, who also heads the unregistered Democratic party, and accused him of recording and producing the cassettes.

Mtikila and the vendor were charged with publishing statements “with the intention to bring into contempt or excite dissatisfaction against the lawful authorities” of the country. On December 14, Mtikila was sentenced to one year in prison on separate charges of sedition against the government.

March 3
Mwinyi Sadallah, free-lancer HARASSED

Sadallah, a free-lance journalist reporting on the island of Zanzibar for the mainland-based private news agency Press Service Tanzania, was banned from working on Zanzibar by the local Director of Information Services, Hamid Makungu. Makungu informed Sadallah in a letter that he was not willing to grant him permission to work on the island, and would consider his application only when he refrained from “inventing” stories and worked according to “professional ethics.” The director used the powers granted to him under the Zanzibar Newpaper Act of 1988, which provides for the suspension or revocation of permission to work on the island.

May 12

Heko, a private daily in Dar-es-Salaam, was threatened with a lawsuit by the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party over a May 3 article that allegedly revealed a portion of CCM’s year 2000 election strategy without the party’s approval.

The story listed and analyzed CCM’s slate of candidates for both Zanzibar and the mainland. CCM complained that the story was inaccurate and likely to confuse the public and demanded that Heko apologize. But Ben Mtobwe, Heko‘s managing editor, insisted that his publication owed no apology to CCM. No notice of legal action has yet been received by Heko.

June 15
Fred Okumu, Daily Mail HARASSED

Okumu, a journalist with the independent Daily Mail, was held for two hours and questioned by police officers in connection with a June 15 report that alleged overcrowding at the central police station in Dar-es-Salaam.

Okumu, who had been working on a series of investigative stories about police activities, was accused of “traversing the borders” by Buka Kibona, a spokesperson for the regional police, and asked to reveal the source of his information.

Although the substance of the article was not officially denied by the police, the police instructed Okumu to provide a written statement, which he did.

July 22

The government of Tanzania ordered a one-week suspension of the daily Kiswahili-language newspaper Majira. The action followed an article in that day’s edition of Majira on proposed substantial pay increases for ministers and senior government officials. According to a statement issued by the Tanzania Information Services, the suspension was intended to deter journalists from writing “false and malicious articles.”

The newspaper resumed publication on July 29. That day’s paper carried a front-page apology for “mistakes” in the offending article. The apology was a condition for the lifting of the suspension.