Tanzanian journalist abducted, beaten for Zanzibar election coverage

Unknown assailants abducted Salma Said, a reporter with the Kiswahili-language Mwananchi (“Citizen“) newspaper and a correspondent for Germany’s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, shortly after the journalist arrived at Dar es Salaam’s Julius Nyerere International Airport on March 18, 2016, according to news reports and a statement she made to the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRD). Said’s abductors released her on March 20, a representative of THRD told CPJ.

Said had flown from Zanzibar, where she had covered the run-up to the March 20 elections, on the advice of THRD, which was concerned for her safety after she contacted the organization to report having received threatening phone calls and text messages from anonymous callers, Onesmo Olengurumwa, coordinator for THRD, told CPJ. The callers were particularly upset with her reporting on militias, widely suspected to be aligned with the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, which had attacked opposition supporters, according to press reports. The opposition had boycotted the elections.

In her statement to THRD, the journalist said that a group of men in civilian clothes forced her into a car as she left the airport in Dar es Salaam. “It was hard to see where we were heading,” she said, “and in a matter of time, we arrived at a compound, judging from the sound of gates opening and closing behind us.”

In her statement, Said described having been “confined into a room, where they brutally kicked and beat me to the point where I was weary and faintly breathing. They would leave the room, only to come back and do the same over again. I suffered crude blows all over my body, the pain was severe, and I had to stay calm and do as they please.”

The journalist said her captors had been silent for much of the time she was held, but that they told her “that they [did not] want [her] reporting on the ongoing elections in Zanzibar.”

Said told THRD that her abductors dropped her near where they had taken her at around 11:30 a.m. on the morning of March 20.

“I couldn’t have seen their faces or the car, as they ordered me to not uncover myself until they left,” Said told THRD. “I dragged myself, walking slowly from the severe pain all over my body … [until] a woman noticed me and helped me get a taxi” to a hospital.

Olengurumwa told CPJ that Said was now safe and that THRD was helping her recover from the shock of the ordeal.

Zanzibar has been gripped by a political crisis since the results of October 2015 elections, which the opposition Civic United Front claimed to have won, were cancelled. The opposition has urged its supporters to boycott the political process since. Said’s husband, Ali Salim Khamis, is an opposition member of parliament.