Journalist Christopher James (left) and Dickson Billikwija (right) are seen on a local news broadcast after their release from detention in Temeke, Tanzania, on April 12, 2021. (Photo: ITV Tanzania/YouTube)

Local official orders 2 journalists detained during municipal meeting in Tanzania

On April 12, 2021, security personnel with Tanzania’s Temeke municipality briefly detained two broadcast reporters—Dickson Billikwija with the privately owned Islands TV, and Christopher James of the privately owned ITV and Radio One—at a local official’s request, according to news reports and both journalists, who spoke to CPJ via messaging app.

That official, Lusubilo Mwakabibi—the district executive director of Temeke, a local administrator appointed by former President John Magufuli—ordered officers from the municipality’s auxiliary police force to arrest the journalists when they attempted to attend a meeting between Mwakabibi and traders from a local market, according to Billikwija and James.

The journalists told CPJ that they had traveled to Temeke, a municipality in Tanzania’s commercial capital of Dar es Salaam, to cover allegations that Mwakabibi had mistreated the traders. When the meeting between Mwakabibi and about 90 traders was about to begin, Mwakabibi called out the journalists and said he had not given them permission to cover the event, James said.

The auxiliary officers then detained Billikwija and James at a holding facility within the municipal government offices until the meeting concluded, according to the two journalists and statements by two local rights organizations, the Tanzania chapter of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), and the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC).

Billikwija and James said they were freed unconditionally after about three hours. James said that he believed the protests of the traders, who refused to leave the government offices until the journalists were freed, aided in their release.

In an April 13 tweet and April 15 statements to journalists, Information Minister Innocent Bashungwa said that the government was investigating the incident, but did not provide information on whether action had been taken against Mwakabibi. CPJ emailed the Ministry of Information for comment but did not receive any response.

Bashungwa told journalists that the government of President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who succeeded Magufuli as president following his death in March, would not allow journalists to be mistreated for doing their jobs.

When CPJ called Mwakabibi on April 19, he hung up as soon as he was asked about the journalists’ cases. When CPJ called back, the phone was answered but no one responded. CPJ also contacted Mwakabibi via messaging app, but he did not respond.