The Ministry of Information stopped the publication of Mwananchi newspaper, part of the Nation Media Group based in Nairobi, and Mtanzania, owned by New Habari Ltd, alleging that the popular Swahili newspapers violated secrecy and sedition laws. Mwananchi was prohibited from publishing through October 10 while Mtanzania was ordered off the streets until the end of December.
In July 2012, the government also invoked sedition allegations against the MwanaHalisi newspaper, ordering its indefinite suspension. Tanzania’s Newspaper Act of 1976 gives the government power to close publications it deems to have incited violence against the state, according to the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT), the country’s independent media regulatory body.
Mwananchi’s suspension was in connection with a story published on July 17, titled “New Government Salary Scheme 2013,” which was allegedly based on a classified document. Mwananchi Managing Editor, veteran journalist Tido Mhando, said the paper had published the article to inform the public.
The government was also offended by a second story, published on August 17, called “Muslims Pray Under Heavy Security,” which was accompanied by a picture of a police dog. Authorities said the photograph implied that “the police had taken dogs to Islamic places of worship. This was not true.”
Mtanzania angered the state with articles that alleged police involvement in attacks against citizens and suggested government incompetency in contending with terrorist threats. The government pointed out three articles: “The Bloody Presidency,” published on March 20; “Revolution Cannot Be Avoided,” published on June 12; and “The Government Stinks of Blood,” published on September 18.
Media watchdog organisations have condemned the suspensions. “The government could have taken their grievances against Mwananchi and MTanzania to the Media Council of Tanzania, an ombudsman, rather than summarily suspending the publications,” said Committee to Protect Journalists’ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes.
“We call on authorities to allow the papers to resume publication and to reform the laws that allow these suspensions, which are not in line with international standards of press freedom.”
“The government’s action violates Tanzania’s own constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression and access to information,” said International Press Institute Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. “We see an unsettling trend in Tanzania, beginning with the closure of the MwanaHalisi last year, of Tanzanian authorities imposing outdated and odious laws to block information from reaching citizens.
“We call on President Jakaya Kikwete and Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda to immediately reverse course on these suspensions, and secondly to overhaul the country’s media and sedition laws that open the door for excessive restrictions on press freedom and freedom of expression.”
Tanzania is fast losing its reputation as a peaceful and tolerant society. Reports say there is growing fear and self-censorship in newsrooms following violent attacks on journalists in recent months.
The suspension of the newspapers comes a year after police murdered TV cameraman Daudi Mwangosi while covering an opposition rally. His killers have not been brought to justice.
Tanzania Editors Forum’s chairman and managing editor of the New Habari newspaper chain, Absalom Kibanda, was seriously wounded in March this year when two assailants attacked him outside his Dar es Salaam home. They chopped off his right ring finger, pierced his eye, knocked out several teeth and plucked his fingernails.
In January, the body of Issa Ngumba, 45, a reporter for Radio Kwizera, was found in Kajuhuleta Forest with a gunshot wound in his left arm and evidence that he had been strangled or hanged.