CPJ Calls on Tanzania President to Reform Press Laws

Committee to Protect Journalists asks Tanzanian President Samia Hassan (above) to do more to reform press freedom
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In the following open letter, the Committee to Protect Journalists asks Tanzanian President Samia Hassan (above) to do more to support press freedom in the country.

Dear President Samia Suluhu Hassan,

We at the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent non-governmental organization that defends press freedom worldwide, welcome your government’s initial steps to improve conditions for the press, including commitments to restore banned media outlets and to investigate attacks on journalists. We write to urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure a free and safe environment for journalists by committing to legal reforms that conform to Tanzania’s constitution as well as regional and international treaty obligations.

Over the last five years, CPJ has witnessed a grinding crackdown on the Tanzanian press, characterized by shutdowns of critical publications, arbitrary arrests of members of the press, the judicial harassment of bloggers, and impunity for those who attack journalists. You can reverse this trend by refraining from arresting and prosecuting journalists in connection to their work, discontinuing all ongoing journalist prosecutions, and lifting all media outlet bans and suspensions.

We also urge you to undertake a review of legislation that threatens a free press and to revoke, suspend, or reform the following:

  • The 2015 Cybercrimes Act, which gives security personnel broad search and seizure powers, and was used to subject the Jamii Forums website to years of judicial harassment for preserving whistleblowers’ identities.
  • The 2016 Media Services Act, which criminalizes defamation and false news publication, and has been cited in the bans of at least three publications—Raia Mwema, Mawio, and Mwanahalisi. In 2019, the East African Court of Justice ruled that this law violates press freedom and breaches the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community, of which Tanzania is a founding member. Your government should prioritize compliance with the court’s orders to amend this law.
  • The 2020 amendments to the Electronic and Postal Communications Act, which require government minders for all interactions between local journalists and foreigners, and introduce additional licensing requirements targeted at media outlets that broadcast foreign content.
  • Online Content Regulations enacted under the Electronic and Postal Communications Act, which impose criminal penalties and broad prohibitions on content, restrictive and expensive licensing requirements for bloggers, and which have been used to prosecute unlicensed YouTube-based journalists.

Legal reforms must be coupled with measures to ensure journalists’ safety and freedom. Impunity for physical attacks on journalists or failures to investigate alleged abuses contribute to a climate of fear.

Since 2017, the Tanzanian government has failed to credibly account for the disappearance of freelance journalist Azory Gwanda. We have been dismayed by the lack of an effective response to his case, including at ministerial level and from police leadership. We urge your office to demand police investigate Gwanda’s disappearance immediately.

We welcome your recent call for a government that stands for justice and serves all Tanzanians without discrimination. These goals are directly linked to a probing, vibrant media, but only if journalists can operate freely and safely. We look forward to a continuing dialogue with your government, and thank you for considering our concerns.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon Executive Director Committee to Protect Journalists

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