Nairobi, June 26, 2020 – Tanzanian authorities should immediately restore Tanzania Daima’s license and allow all newspapers to publish freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
In a June 23 statement, Tanzania’s Information Services Department, which registers print media, announced it would revoke Tanzania Daima’s distribution and publication license as of June 24, according to news reports and a copy of the statement, which CPJ reviewed.
The statement accused the publication of breaching the law and professional ethics, and banned its distribution domestically and abroad. The statement did not cite specific content from the newspaper that was allegedly illegal, nor did it specify which laws the paper was accused of breaking.
Tanzania Daima was previously banned for 90 days in 2017 on allegations of publishing false information, according to media reports from the time. The paper is owned by the family of Freeman Mbowe, a prominent opposition politician, according to reports.
“Tanzania’s government has used flimsy pretexts to repeatedly crack down on journalists for simply doing their jobs. From this pattern the only obvious intent is to smother critics and independent voices,” said CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa Representative, Muthoki Mumo. “Amid a pandemic and with elections scheduled for October, Tanzanians need access to diverse sources of news. Authorities should restore Tanzania Daima’s license and cease this assault on the press.”
The statement said that Tanzania Daima had previously been warned over 10 times for legal and ethical breaches, and accused the publication of contempt of national authorities and ill intent. The statement, signed by Patrick Kipangula, whose office is charged with print media registration, said the Information Services Department had the authority to revoke the paper’s license under the Media Services Act, a 2016 law that CPJ has previously called on the government to repeal.
Tanzania Daima has an option to reapply for its license or appeal to the minister for information, according to the statement.
Two people familiar with the matter, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal, said they believed the revocation was sparked by a June 20 front-page article in Tanzania Daima, which cited a local bishop calling on the public to protest on June 7, the “Saba Saba” public holiday, to demand an independent electoral commission. Tanzania is due to hold presidential and National Assembly elections on October 25, according to reports.
In a joint statement issued on June 24, the Media Council of Tanzania and the Tanzania Editors’ Forum, two local press rights groups, expressed concern at the use of the 2016 law, which “allows the government to be complainant, prosecutor and judge of its own case.”
CPJ called and texted chief government spokesperson Hassan Abbasi for comment, but did not receive any replies. When CPJ called Information Minister Harrison Mwakyembe, the person who answered the phone was inaudible, and then did not respond to text messages. When CPJ called back, a message said that number was unreachable.
When CPJ called the Ministry of Information at the phone number listed on its website, a representative gave CPJ the number of another official, named “Rodney,” whom they said would respond to questions. When CPJ called that number, Rodney declined to comment or give his last name, saying that he was out of the office and that another official would call CPJ. CPJ did not immediately receive any phone calls from the ministry.
The Ministry of Information did not respond to an email from CPJ.