Tanzanian authorities crack down on opposition parties, rights groups and media ahead of elections

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Tanzania authorities have stepped up repression of opposition parties, nongovernmental organizations, and the media ahead of the country’s general elections on October 28, 2020, Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

Since mid-June, the government has arrested at least 17 opposition party members and critics of the government, suspended a rights group and canceled the license of another, and blocked other major rights groups from observing the upcoming elections.

The authorities have also imposed new restrictions on the media, revoking the license of a newspaper affiliated with an opposition member and restricting some news outlets because of their reporting on Covid-19, which President John Magufuli says no longer exists in the country.

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“It’s no coincidence that the Tanzanian government has increased its repression of the opposition, activists groups, and the media so close to the elections,” said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead of upholding the right to free expression at this critical time, authorities have instead adopted measures that raise concerns about the elections being free and fair.”

The government has arbitrarily arrested and briefly detained members of opposition political parties, notably the ACT-Wazalendo Party and Chadema, the main opposition party, on such grounds as “endangering the peace” or unlawful assembly. In July, the police arrested and held Issa Ponda, a Muslim leader, for nine days after he held a news conference calling for free and fair elections.

The government has also imposed new restrictions on the media and on freedom of expression online. It adopted regulations that ban Tanzanian broadcasters from working with foreign broadcasters without staff from the Tanzania Communications and Regulatory Authority or other government agency present. It also adopted regulations that criminalize a broad range of social media and online posts, including those that support organizing demonstrations or that “promote homosexuality.”

The authorities have also fined or suspended media outlets for covering politically sensitive topics, including the coronavirus. On July 6, the Communications Authority banned Kwanza TV, an online television station, for 11 months because of its Instagram post reporting on a Covid-19 health alert by the United States Embassy about Tanzania. The authority’s summons letter to Kwanza TV accused the station of being “unpatriotic.”

Two editors of independent newspapers, who did not wish to have their names used, said that officials had informally told them not to publish material that the government would not like. One of the editors said they had been “subtly warned” not to give prominent coverage to an opposition member Tundu Lissu and the former foreign minister Bernard Membe, who recently defected from the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM).

The authorities have also taken action against key nongovernmental organizations to limit their ability to monitor the elections. In July, the National Electoral Commission issued lists of the organizations approved to act as election observers and to conduct voter education, excluding major organizations that have historically coordinated election monitoring in the country.

The authorities have also stepped up their restrictions on organizations working to promote the rights and health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people ahead of the elections. Human Rights Watch has documented the government’s repression of LGBT people and activism, including arbitrary arrests and the use of forced anal exams, a discredited method of seeking evidence of homosexual conduct that is cruel and degrading and can amount to a form of torture, in the context of a wider political repression over the past five years.

Since President Magufuli took office in 2015, the government has cracked down on the media and civic space by passing and enforcing restrictive laws and threatening to cancel the registration of organizations critical of the government. The government has also placed restrictions on political opposition and given the registrar of political parties wide discretionary powers, including to cancel parties’ registration.

The authorities have also placed new limits on public interest litigation, which raises concerns about the right to redress for rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. On June 10, Parliament limited the ability of groups to legally challenge a law or policy that allegedly violates the constitution’s bill of rights. The move appears aimed to prevent groups from filing public interest cases on behalf of victims of government abuses.

“All of the actions that the government has taken in recent weeks affect conditions for a fair electoral playing field,” Nyeko said. “If Tanzania’s elections are going to be free and fair, the government needs to allow rights groups and the media to work independently, and for political opposition and critics to express their views freely.”

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1 COMMENT

  1. It is very unfortunate that Tanzania has found itself in this greesy situation! The Magufuli Dictatorial régime is the most brutal in Tanzania history! Magufuli banned all opposition political rallies, activities and imposed arbitrary arrests and imprisoned of opposition leaders, members and sympathizers!
    For the first time in Tanzania’s history the country suffered heavily under the “Watu Wasiojulikana”, literally translated “The unknown people” who kidnapped, tortured, injured, maimed and killed scores of innocent people, whose only crime was to voice different opinions to the ruling junta! For the first time since independence sixty years ago people were horrified to see floating bodies of people murdered by henchmen of the Magufuli régime in sea beaches!
    The dictator put himself above every aspect, he is himself the Constitution, Parliament, law, Police, Judge and imprisoner – all wrapped in one!
    He compromised the National Assembly to become his hand tool to harass the opposition, pass draconian laws that some contravene the very Constitution that has put him to power! The major political party CHADEMA was the most affected victim with scores of its leaders and sympathizers being kidnapped, harassed, tortured, arbitrary imprisoned, injured and some of them killed! In local government elections last year he systematically (using his appointees) disqualified all opposition candidates for villages and ward leadership positions for naive reasons such as the aspirant misspelled the name! He disallowed live streaming of Parliamentary sessions, imposed heavy fines to the media that streamed opposition views and banned several newspapers, radios and Television stations!
    Thanks Lord for availing a ray of hope as the opposition candidate Tundu Lissu seems to command an overwhelming support from the people of all walks who view him as a liberator, however this hope fades when one considers the Electoral committee is elected by him and had several times warned them publicly not to announce opposition members who win elections and instead only announce his ruling members aspirants since he is the one who provides them with good salaries, cars and other emoluments!

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