Zanzibar government bars critical journalist from working

New York, June 10, 2005—Authorities on the semi-autonomous Tanzanian island of Zanzibar have 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 yesterday, 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.

In November 2003, Zanzibar authorities used the 1988 law to shutter the island’s only independent newspaper, Dira, on unspecified “national security” grounds. Independent journalists want the law scrapped, saying it is unconstitutional.

“We’re outraged at this blatant censorship of a critical journalist, and call on Zanzibar authorities to allow Jabir Idrissa to resume working immediately,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Under the cover of an ‘accreditation’ law, Zanzibar’s government is actually licensing journalists—and, in this case, silencing one. We call on the government to eliminate the accreditation requirement.”

Local journalists say that the Zanzibar authorities are 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.