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Rights groups urge Magufuli’s gov’t to review restrictive laws, end attacks on journalists

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The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has joined other non – governmental organisations (NGOs) in Tanzania to decry the rise in incidences of human rights abuses and restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and freedom of assembly.

In a letter written to the president of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli, on Thursday, they urged him to take proactive measures to publicly acknowledge the critical role that the civil society and independent media play in promoting peaceful coexistence.

The letter written by 65 rights groups highlighted several incidents that have happened since Magufuli became president in November 2015.

Government officials should desist from publicly threatening human rights defenders including when activists that are working to expose corrupt practices in government or are critical of government policies and actions.

The recently passed Online Content Regulations that require among others, for bloggers to pay up to $900 to get a licence was singled out as criminalising a broad scope of legitimate forms of online freedom of expression.

The 2015 Cybercrimes Act under which a private citizen was given a three year sentence for insulting the president on Facebook.

The Media Services Act, which allows the authorities to unilaterally determine which journalists receive licenses, forces all journalists to obtain a license, and makes defamation and sedition a criminal offense.

Four prominent newspapers were banned in 2017 while in January 2018, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) fined five television stations a combined 60 million Tanzanian shillings ($27,000) for broadcasting “offensive and unethical” content.

The persecution and judicial harassment of journalists including a case against the proprietors of Jamii Forums, who government accuses of failing to disclose the identities of persons who posted details of allegedly corrupt officials on the popular online platform.

Several cases have been recorded in 2018 of opposition politicians who have been violently attacked and even killed in some cases.

Two opposition leaders, Joseph Mbilinyi, an MP and local party leader Emmanuel Masonga were sentenced to five months on 26 February 2018 for insulting President John Magufuli during a political rally.

Magufuli and the police have consistently threatened to physically abuse any individuals or organisations who seek to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly to air their grievances.

Protests that were planned by several activists to be held on April 26 flopped after police arrested mobilisers in the country and told protesters they would be ‘beaten like stray dogs’.

The civil society organisations conclude the letter by asking Magufuli’s government to disable restrictive provisions in the Cybercrimes Act and the Online Content Regulations.

‘‘Government officials should desist from publicly threatening human rights defenders including when activists that are working to expose corrupt practices in government or are critical of government policies and actions,’‘ reads part of the recommendations.

They also ask that cases of newspapers that were banned, suspended or fined should be reviewed while independent investigations should be carried out into cases of attacks and assaults of journalists, activists and opposition politicians.

 

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