Zanzibari government bans newspaper

New York, November 25, 2003—The government of Zanzibar, a semiautonomous island off the coast of Tanzania, has ordered the indefinite suspension of the independent weekly Dira, according to local journalists and international press reports. Dira, the island’s most popular newspaper, has been highly critical of the government.

Editor Ali Nabwa told CPJ that Dira received a letter on Monday, November 24, from Zanzibar Minister of State Salim Juma Osman ordering the paper closed under a 1988 Act that empowers the government to shutter a paper it deems a “threat to national security.” According to Nabwa, the letter did not say why Dira might be a threat to national security. Nabwa denied the charge and said Dira would seek a court injunction next week to allow it to resume publishing.

Nabwa told CPJ he believes that Dira was closed because it had criticized the government for “malpractices, corruption and abuse of power” and had recently run an article saying the ruling party was preparing to rig elections in 2005. He said the paper had also opened up a debate on Zanzibar’s union with Tanzania, another sensitive subject. Zanzibar joined a union with Tanganyika in 1964, forming the state of Tanzania.

This is the not the first difficulty that Dira has faced. On October 27, the Zanzibar High Court ordered the paper to pay US$660,000 in libel damages to the son and daughter of Zanzibar President Abeid Karume over articles alleging that they used family connections to buy state-owned businesses. Nabwa told CPJ that this ruling is being appealed.

“This appears to be the latest in a series of moves to silence Zanzibar’s only independent newspaper,” said CPJ’s Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on Zanzibari authorities to allow Dira to resume publishing immediately.”