Tanzania government repressive and intolerant- Amnesty International

Tanzania's opposition leader and CHADEMA's presidential candidate Tundu Lissu. He was recently banned from campaigns after the electoral body accused him of malpractices [File, Standard]

Repressive and unconstitutional directives characterised with arrests, intimidation and muzzled press have marred Tanzanian election campaigns. 

A study by Amnesty International, titled: “Lawfare: Repression by law ahead of Tanzania’s General Elections” has passed a verdict on Tanzania’s political environment just two weeks from the voting day.

The study was conducted between January to September 2020, a time when the East African nation was sunk in campaign mood, and the world battled the Covid-19 pandemic.

The research involved administering an interview to 29 respondents, among them six media workers, six representatives of NGOs, four lawyers, three human rights defenders and activists and two former detainees.

Rights group says it reached out to country’s Attorney General, Minister of Constitutional Affairs and Justice and the Minister of Home Affairs on October 2, 2020, for rights of reply.

In the report are detailed accounts of human rights subjugation, intimidation against opposition politicians, NGOs and onslaught against freedom of the press.

For example, the report faults the government of President John Magufuli for banning political activities and rallies on June 24, 2016, while selectively applying the rule.

According to the report, despite the country being in the electioneering period, the Tanzanian government still uses the rule to target opposition leaders and scuttle their political events.

Political targets

On the other hand, politicians from the ruling CCM party led by President Magufuli enjoy protection by the authorities.

The report party reads, “Opposition politicians have been intimidated, harassed, arbitrarily arrested and briefly detained on spurious grounds constraining their ability to freely meet each other and their supporters ahead of elections.”

“Police have applied this and public assembly laws in selective and partisan ways to restrict opposition gatherings while allowing CCM politicians to meet freely.”

Amnesty report touches on the arrest of opposition leader Zitto Kabwe of ACT –Wazalendo in June 2020. Mr Kabwe was arrested alongside other party members while holding an internal party meeting after which they were released on bail. The leaders told Amnesty International that the police failed to issue them with the particulars of the offence.

The report then cites the arrest of Nusrat Hanje, Secretary-General of Chadema’s national youth wing alongside other young party officials. The group was charged with the offence of behaving in a manner likely cause breach of peace among other charges. They had hoisted CHADEMA’s flag while singing Tanzanian national anthem.

At the epitome of the spread of Covid-19, Magufuli’s government stopped the daily announcement of coronavirus infections in the country. He would then open the airspace and order students back to school amidst protest from the neighbouring countries.

His directives came handy with cautions against sharing Covid-19-related news on social media platforms and even in the press.

War against the media

The report stated that these were calculated moves to clamp down the freedom of the press and cover up the incompetence of the government in handling the Covid-19 pandemic.

It states: “Authorities suppressed information about the government’s disregard of global best practice in countering Covid-19, in another clear violation of the right to freedom of expression.

 They cracked down on critical media without disseminating reliable, accessible and evidence-based information to the public, including on government measures to protect public health, which is crucial to countering inaccurate information and to fostering trust.”

It further cites various penalties meted on media organisations operating in Tanzania after being accused of misreporting on Covid. Examples were Star Media owned by South Africa’s Multichoice and Azam which were fined over Sh200,000 each and forced to apologise. In other instance, Mwananchi Newspaper Online was suspended for six months and ordered to apologise after publishing President Magufuli’s picture buying fish without observing social distance.

The report accuses the Tanzanian government persecuting opinion leaders and restricting their rights of association. It ties this to an incident where Tanzanian Registrar of Political Parties reprimanded ACT-Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe after he met British High Commissioner to Tanzania Sarah Cooke.

“This incident reflects the lengths that authorities in Tanzania are prepared to go to restrict the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, including that of politicians speaking to foreign envoys, by expansively interpreting sweeping and overly broad laws and regulations,” it states.

It laments a separate incident in which local comedian Idris Sultan was fined over Sh600,000 after a video clip of him laughing at President Magufuli’s old photo surfaced online.

The group has urged the Dodoma leadership to obey the UN Charter of human rights and to allow individuals, NGOs and the media to operate freely within their constitutional rights.

It has appealed to the multinational bodies to force Tanzania to obey the fundamental human rights.

“Amnesty International calls on inter-governmental organizations, including the UN, AU, SADC and EAC, to put pressure on the Tanzanian authorities to respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights before, during and after the elections,” it states in conclusion.