Media Watch

Tanzania gov’t ban Swahili paper indefinitely

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Tanzanian government has banned indefinitely the critical Swahili-language weekly MwanaHalisi, accusing the paper of publishing seditious articles, according to local journalists and a statement by the information ministry.

The ministry claimed that MwanaHalisi’s four July editions contained seditious and false material but did not specify particular articles. Under the 1976 Newspaper Act,

Tanzanian authorities can suspend a newspaper at will if they deem that it has “seditious intent,” according to CPJ research. MwanaHalisi Chief Editor Jabir Idrissa told CPJ that the paper is considering filing an appeal.

Idrissa and other local journalists said they suspect the ban is related to a series of articles in MwanaHalisi concerning the kidnap and torture in late June of physician

Steven Ulimboka. Unknown assailants kidnapped and beat Ulimboka on the outskirts of the main commercial city Dar es Salaam after he led a doctors’ strike, according to news reports. MwanaHalisi’s reports suggested involvement by authorities, citing phone records of an alleged security officer, Idrissa said.

Tanzanian security services and President Jakaya Kikwete have denied government involvement, according to local and international reports.

“Once again, Tanzanian authorities have wielded an archaic newspaper act and vague, unsupported accusations of sedition to censor reporting that is merely critical of the government,” said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. “Authorities should reverse this ban immediately and allow MwanaHalisi to report on the Ulimboka

case without fear of reprisal.”

Over the past year, Tanzanian authorities have called MwanaHalisi’s editors in for questioning every two or three weeks over their articles, Idrissa said.

Tanzanian authorities used the Newspaper Act to suspend MwanaHalisi in October 2008 for three months for articles considered seditious and insulting to the president. During the 2010 election campaign, Sethi Kamuhanda, the permanent secretary of the ministry of information, visited print media houses to warn them that the government would close down any media that portrayed the government negatively, according to local journalists.

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