JUNE 9, 2005
Updated: June 24, 2005

Jabir Idrissa, Rai

Authorities on the semi-autonomous Tanzanian island of Zanzibar banned political columnist Jabir Idrissa from writing, saying he was working without permission. Idrissa told the Committee to Protect Journalists that he believes he was banned for criticizing the Zanzibar government.

The Zanzibar-based Idrissa is a well-known political columnist for the weekly, Swahili language newspaper Rai. The newspaper is based on the Tanzanian mainland, but sells on Zanzibar. Idrissa told CPJ he had been writing the column for about a year and that it had criticized the Zanzibar government for human rights abuses and bad governance.

In a statement, Zanzibar’s information ministry said that Idrissa had been working illegally as a journalist on Zanzibar and that he was being barred from practicing journalism until he complied with the island’s regulations. Director of Information Ali Mwinyikai told CPJ that a 1988 Zanzibar law obliged all journalists working on the island to obtain press accreditation from his ministry, but that Idrissa had not done so. This accreditation must be renewed annually, he said.

Idrissa told CPJ that he had a press card issued by the union government of Tanzania in Dar es Salaam, and that he did not believe it was necessary to have two press cards. He and one other local journalist said that Zanzibar authorities have not routinely enforced the island’s accreditation rule.

Local journalists say that the Zanzibar authorities were seeking to further muzzle the press in the run-up to general elections in October. The ruling CCM party faces a strong challenge on Zanzibar from the opposition CUF party. Previous elections there have often been marked by political violence.

The ban on Idrissa was lifted after he applied for and received press accreditation from the island’s information ministry, official sources told Agence France-Presse on June 20.