Attacks on the Press 2000: Tanzania

LONG-STANDING SOVEREIGNTY DISPUTES BETWEEN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT and the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar continued to affect relations between government and the media. Several journalists were arrested, interrogated, and then released without charge during the run-up to general elections in late October, which were marred by violent outbreaks in Zanzibar and resulted in the reelection of President Benjamin Mkapa.

Tensions ran high before the elections. And although the independent press offered relatively balanced political coverage, opposition leaders accused state media of pro-government bias. Members of the Tanzania Labor Party (TLP), for example, claimed that state television had falsely broadcast news of the cancellation of a TLP rally.

General elections on the mainland were relatively uneventful, as Mpaka won reelection by a landslide. On Zanzibar, however, the October 29 polls were violent, bloody, and bitterly contested. Several journalists were assaulted by soldiers while covering events on the mainland and Zanzibar. Others had their professional equipment confiscated or destroyed. And on November 1, BBC World Service correspondent Ally Saleh was arrested in Zanzibar after interviewing two women who claimed to have information about voting irregularities. He was released on bail the next day after being charged with kidnapping and indecent assault against the women.

Around that time, Zanzibar police were seeking three other journalists-Issa Yusuf of the newspaper Mtanzania, Jabir Idrisa of the newspaper Majira, and Salim Said Salim, Zanzibar correspondent for the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle-for unknown reasons, according to local news reports. All three went into hiding.

Amid government threats to ban media outlets that published “seditious” stories or cartoons that defamed the president, there was a flurry of new newspapers and magazines, which attracted investors from as far as Germany and India. Local independent media remain hemmed in by legal restrictions, however, including colonial-era decrees that allow for the banning of publications “in the public interest.”

While the Constitution guarantees free speech, it does not explicitly grant citizens access to government information. Such access is further constrained by the National Security Act, the Official Secrets Act, and the Restricted Areas Act, all of which make it difficult for reporters to cover the government. In addition, the Newspaper Registration Act of 1976 requires all newspapers to register with the government, which also has the power to close newspapers. The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party has used the Act to ban several newspapers and Web sites in recent years.

The majority of Zanzibaris are Muslims; as a result, the political rivalry between Zanzibar and the predominantly Christian mainland has taken on religious overtones. On August 4, the government banned a book called The Mwembechai Killings and the Future of Politics in Tanzania. The book detailed the killings of several hundred Zanzibari Muslims by security forces from the mainland.

Venance Mlay, Kasheshe

Police detained Mlay, editor of the Kiswahili-language daily Kasheshe, for questioning in connection with a January 18 story on police brutality. Mlay was arrested at his newspaper’s offices for alleging that police in Mbeya, a rural town in Tanzania’s southwestern region, had shot and killed an unarmed citizen after a manhunt.

Police in the capital, Dar-es-Salaam, questioned Mlay for five hours. During the interrogation, Mlay was told that a group of officers from Mbeya was due in Dar-es-Salaam on February 28 with a warrant to escort him to the site of the alleged shooting. He was released that same day, however.

On February 28, police again interrogated Mlay for 20 minutes in a Dar-es-Salam station. In the presence of the Mbeya policemen, Mlay provided a written statement along with photos that he had taken of the spot where the killing allegedly took place. The Mbeya officers departed shortly thereafter, promising to return if they needed more information from him.

In an earlier incident, on January 30, two policemen (one a native of Mbeya) walked into the offices of The Guardian Ltd., publisher of Kasheshe, and demanded to speak with Mlay. They asked him to disclose his sources for the police brutality article, which he refused to do. They then ordered him to appear at the local police station the next day, where he was briefly detained.

According to Mlay, the Regional Criminal Officer (RCO) in charge of Mbeya later personally apologized for all these incidents. No formal charges were ever filed against him.

Athuman Hamisi, The Guardian

Police in the island state of Zanzibar detained Hamisi, a photographer for the Dar-es-Salaam weekly The Guardian, for questioning in connection with pictures he took at a meeting of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.

Hamisi told CPJ that he approached the vehicles of Zanzibar president Salmin Amour and Tanzanian vice-president Omar Ali Juma as the two politicians left the meeting hall during a lunch break. Police then claimed that Hamisi was standing in a restricted area when he photographed the two men.

The photographer was taken into custody and interrogated for three hours. He was later released without charges after the intervention of Assistant Police Commissioner Juma Mtumwa.

Khalfan Said, The Guardian

Said, a photographer with The Guardian newspaper, was detained briefly while working on the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar. Police accused him of photographing military personnel. They confiscated two rolls of film before releasing him.

Ally Saleh, BBC

Saleh, a reporter with the BBC World Service’s Swahili program, was arrested on the island of Zanzibar while covering Tanzania’s second-ever multiparty elections. Two days earlier, on October 29, he had interviewed two women who claimed to have information about illegal voting in the previous weekend’s widely discredited poll.

Twelve hours after his arrest, Saleh was released on bail. The next day, authorities charged him with kidnapping and indecent assault. His trial was still pending at year’s end.