Nairobi, April 9, 2020— In response to a Tanzanian court’s conviction yesterday of Maxence Melo, founder of the online discussion and whistleblowing platform Jamii Forums, on charges of obstructing police investigations, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement:
“Tanzania’s courts should never have entertained this case, let alone convicted Maxence Melo on charges that were transparently intended to muzzle critical voices on one of East Africa’s most vibrant online platforms,” said CPJ Sub-Saharan Africa Representative Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities should not contest Melo’s appeal, and should allow Jamii Forums, which is a vital source of news and accountability, to operate without interference.”
The Dar es Salaam court sentenced Melo, a recipient of CPJ’s 2019 International Press Freedom Award, to pay a fine of three million Tanzanian shillings ($1,300) or face one year in prison, according to media reports and a statement by Melo posted on Jamii Forums. Melo paid the fine, but filed a notice of intent to appeal the case, according to court documents seen by CPJ.
The charge stemmed from Melo’s alleged refusal to disclose the identities of whistleblowers on the Jamii Forums platform, according to the statement. This case, which has been characterized by repeated delays, is one of three obstruction allegations dating from 2016, when authorities raided Jamii Forums and arrested Melo, according to CPJ research. In June 2018, Melo was acquitted in one of the other two cases; the third case is pending in court, according to Jamii Forums.