New York, December 22, 2011–Authorities in Tanzania have arrested and charged a columnist and an editor with inciting the police force to subordinate in connection with an editorial critical of the government, according to local journalists and news reports. The printer of the publication has also been summoned to court twice in relation to the article.
On Tuesday, a magistrate charged Managing Editor Absalom Kibanda of the private Swahili daily Tanzania Daima (“Tanzania Forever”) with incitement for authorizing the publication of the November 30 column, defense lawyer Nyaronyo Kicheere told CPJ. Last Friday, police interrogated Kibanda for three hours, he told CPJ.
The column alleged that the government misuses the police to block demonstrations by citizens, according to local journalists.
The author of the piece, columnist Samson Mwingamba, was arrested on December 8 and initially charged with sedition, according to local journalists. He spent five days in custody for failing to satisfy bail conditions, Kibanda told CPJ. The charges of sedition were changed to incitement on Tuesday — a charge under the penal code that can result in a year and a half imprisonment, Kicheere said.
Last week, the Tanzania Editors Forum issued a statement claiming there was political pressure behind the charges, according to local reports. Kibanda is the chairman of the Tanzania Editors Forum – a union of Tanzanian editors who lobby on media reform.
“Tanzania must stop using overbroad legislation to silence critical speech,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “We call on authorities to drop these charges, which appear to be politically motivated and intended to intimidate and silence Tanzania’s independent press.”
A magistrate also summoned Theophil Makunga, group managing editor of Mwananchi Communications, to Resident Magistrate Court of Kisutu for printing the column on Tuesday and Thursday, Makunga told CPJ. “The police summoned me for questioning and I have gone to court twice this week but still no charges have been presented,” Makunga said.
Media laws and court summonses are often used in Tanzania to silence journalists critical of the government or business leaders, according to CPJ research. In January 2010, then-Information Minister George Mkuchika suspended the independent weekly Kulikoni for three months because of a story that alleged cheating on national exams for the army using the 1976 Newspapers Act, Kulikoni Managing Editor Evarist Mwitumba told CPJ.