The Tanzanian government’s decision to suspend an independent weekly for 30 days is “arbitrary and excessive” and a complete contradiction of the new president’s declared intention to stop sanctioning the media, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says.
One of Tanzania’s most popular Swahili-language newspapers, Raia Mwema has been missing from the country’s newsstands since 6 September, one day after government spokesman Gerson Msigwa announced that it was being suspended for 30 days, above all because it identified a man who killed three police officers and an embassy security guard on 25 August as a member of the ruling party.
As evidence of its claim, the newspaper published past photos of the killer wearing the colours of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the party that has ruled Tanzania ever since independence. Editor Joseph Kulagwa told RSF that the newspaper also based its claim on a statement by the director of criminal investigation that the killer had used a “political umbrella” as a cover for his “terrorist activities.”
President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who took office in March after President John Magufuli’s sudden death, said during a meeting with journalists in June that she was committed to strengthening freedom of speech and supporting media development. A few weeks before that, she also pledged to lift sanctions against media that had been targeted in the past.
“This newspaper’s suspension is a complete contradiction of the new president’s promises,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “It’s no different from the arbitrary and excessive sanctions imposed during the years that her predecessor, John Magufuli, was president, a period marked by an unprecedented decline in press freedom in Tanzania. The Tanzanian media are exhausted. This repressive policy must end.”
Like many other media outlets, Raia Mwema was already sanctioned in 2017, when it was suspended for 90 days after publishing a story headlined “Magufuli presidency doomed to fail.”
President Suluhu’s pledge to lift bans placed on media outlets under her predecessor was not carried out. In fact, in an additional indication of the new administration’s rapid U-turn on media freedom, the government’s spokesman quickly announced that the decision to lift bans would apply only to online TV channels, and not to other media outlets.
Tanzania is ranked 124th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index, having fallen a total of 53 places from 2016 to 2020 under President Magufuli, more than any other country in recent years.