Posted: September 21, 2005
Mpoki Bukuku, The Sunday Citizen
A group of prison wardens and prisoners acting on their orders assaulted Bukuku, chief photographer for the private Sunday Citizen, as he attempted to cover the eviction of families from houses that were being repossessed by the Tanzanian Prisons Department. The houses were purchased by the prisons department in 2002 from the Air Tanzania Co., but the families were challenging the repossession in court, according to the local chapter of the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA).
Journalists and photographers had been officially ordered not to cover the event, MISA reported. According to news reports, guards and prisoners also assaulted Christopher Kidanka, information officer for the local Legal and Human Rights Centre, as well as other bystanders, and attempted to confiscate cameras and notebooks from Bukuku and Kidanka.
Home Affairs Minister Omar Ramadhan Mapuri defended the assault on Bukuku and Kidanka, saying that Prisons Department officers had used "reasonable" force in the evictions. Calling the beatings "a serious violation of media freedom by an arm of the government," the Media Owners Association of Tanzania (MOAT) called for Mapuri's resignation. Other local journalists' associations announced they were suspending all coverage of the minister.
On September 14, police announced the formation of a committee to investigate the assaults, which a police spokesman described as "criminal."
Two days later, Mapuri apologized for his statements supporting the prison wardens. However, a MOAT spokesman told The Associated Press that the organization's ban on coverage would continue "until appropriate action is taken against the minister, head of prisons, and those prison wardens who roughed up journalists who were on duty."