Nairobi, January 27, 2015—Tanzanian authorities banned circulation of the privately owned regional weekly The East African on January 21, citing the newspaper’s lack of registration, according to news reports. Local journalists said they believed the paper was shut because of its critical coverage of the government.
In a letter sent to the The East African, authorities forbid the paper from circulating in Tanzania and said it was not officially registered as required by the 1976 Newspaper Act, the paper reported. The Kenya-based Nation Media Group, the publishers of The East African, originally registered the newspaper 20 years ago when the paper first started circulating in Tanzania, Nation Media Group Chief Operating Officer Tom Mshindi told CPJ.
Christopher Kidanka, bureau chief of the paper, and other local journalists said they suspected the real reason behind the paper’s suspension was its coverage. The bureau chief said that he was called to the office of Assah Mwambene, government director of information, on January 21, where Mwambene singled out an opinion piece published in the paper that criticized Tanzania’s stance toward Rwandan rebels based in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The article also discussed Tanzania’s reluctance to engage in military action against the rebel group.
Mwambene also criticized a cartoon published last week in The East African that was deemed critical of President Jakaya Kikwete, Kidanka said.
CPJ’s phone calls and emails to the director were not immediately returned.
Kidanka said Tanzanian journalists were continuing to produce stories for the weekly. This week’s edition was not circulated within the country, he said.
“This abrupt action against The East African smacks of censorship, not bureaucracy,” said CPJ East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes. “We call on authorities to allow The East African to continue circulating and to address the outdated and repressive laws that stifle the press in Tanzania.”
Tanzanian authorities often rely on a litany of anti-press laws such as the 1976 Newspaper Act that allows the information ministry wide discretionary powers to silence critical coverage by banning publications, according to CPJ research.