Opposition politician Esther Matiko (center) and her supporters, with police in the background, before being arrested at a campaign rally on August 8, 2018, in Tarime District, northern Tanzania. (Sitta Tumma)
Opposition politician Esther Matiko (center) and her supporters, with police in the background, before being arrested at a campaign rally on August 8, 2018, in Tarime District, northern Tanzania. (Sitta Tumma)

Tanzania police detain journalist overnight on allegations of unlawful assembly

Nairobi, August 21, 2018–Police in Tanzania should drop allegations of illegal assembly against Sitta Tumma, a journalist who was arrested on August 8 and detained overnight, and investigate allegations that he was assaulted by security personnel, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Tumma, a print reporter and regional bureau chief for the privately owned Tanzania Daima newspaper, told CPJ that on August 8 he was arrested while covering an opposition campaign rally in Tarime District, northern Tanzania, ahead of a local authority by-election, even though he repeatedly identified himself as a journalist. He said he was assaulted during the arrest, held overnight at a police station in Tarime, and released on August 9 on bond. Police accuse him of unlawful assembly and have told him he may be required to appear at any time to assist in their investigations, according to Tumma and his lawyer Ernest Mhagama. The lawyer told CPJ that police claimed they could not identify Tumma as a journalist because he was not dressed as one.

“Tanzanian authorities should investigate those who arrested and assaulted journalist Sitta Tumma, instead of intimidating him with a bogus investigation into his reporting at a political event,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, Muthoki Mumo. “The idea that journalists should dress a certain way is a joke, but the grim state of press freedom in Tanzania isn’t at all funny.”

Police came to the opposition rally with a notice from election officials declaring the meeting illegal, and ordered politicians and crowds to disperse, according to media reports. Tumma said that he was documenting this operation, taking pictures of officers using tear gas to disperse the crowd and arresting people, including opposition Member of Parliament Esther Matiko, when he noticed three anti-riot police officers following him. Tumma told CPJ that he verbally identified himself as a journalist three times to the officers, while also lifting his camera above his head for them to see. When they were close enough, he said he showed them his work identification but they arrested him nonetheless. He told CPJ that he was taken to a waiting police truck where two police officers kicked him, causing minor injury to his back, and tried to take away his camera, which he refused to let go.

Tumma told CPJ that while he and the other arrested individuals were waiting to be booked at the police station, Matiko called an acquaintance who came and took the journalist’s camera for safekeeping. Tumma told CPJ that at the station he once more informed police that he was a journalist. He was detained overnight and released on August 9 on a bond with terms that indicate police may call him any time to answer questions in connection to investigations into the allegations of unlawful assembly, according to Mhagama.

The lawyer told CPJ that when he asked police why they had arrested Tumma, they told him that they had no way of identifying him as a journalist since he was not wearing the appropriate “uniform.” Mhagama said that Tanzanian law does not require journalists to wear specific clothes, and even so, Tumma had repeatedly identified himself as a journalist during and after the arrest.

“I heard that they said I was not wearing a uniform. But it is funny because as a journalist I do not have a uniform. My uniform is the pen, notebook, and camera. I am not a soldier, I don’t wear uniform,” said Tumma.

Tanzania’s inspector general of police, Simon Sirro, and Tarime-Rorya special zone police commander Henry Mwaibambe did not respond to CPJ’s calls and text messages yesterday. However, Mwaibambe has said previously that police are going to arraign the people arrested during the protest in court on charges of illegal assembly, according to an August 10 report by IPP Media. Mwaibambe further denied that Tumma had been targeted for arrest because he was a journalist and said that his case would be treated like any other, according to the same report.