Tanzania’s Information, Sports and Culture minister Harrison Mwakyembe imposed a 24-month ban on Mawio’s print editions and any articles posted online yesterday over articles that mentioned two retired presidents, Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete, in reports on a government investigation into allegations of misconduct in the mining sector.
According to statement by the director of Information Services, Hassan Abbasi, Mawio was accused of contravening a state directive and the Media Services Act by publishing pictures of the two former presidents on the front page of its June 15-21 edition and writing a story allegedly linking them to the mining investigations. The minister’s statement cited Article 59 of the Media Services Act, which allows authorities to ‘prohibit or otherwise sanction the publication of any content that jeopardizes national security or public safety’.
“We are extremely concerned that Tanzania is using public order as an excuse to frustrate the flow of information and public debate,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal in New York, adding: “A two-year ban is tantamount to closing the publication. We urge the government to let Mawio resume operations and to stop stifling critical voices.”
Speaking at the State House in Dar es Salaam on June 14, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli warned the media not to link the two former presidents to the mining contract investigation in the 1990s and 2000s, where the country may have lost about US$30 billion in mining revenue due to understatements of the value of exports. Neither of the former presidents is under investigation.
Mawio’s managing editor Simon Mkina said that the newspaper was already being distributed by the time the president gave his directive, after the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) intervened.
Mkina said that he has received three calls from unknown numbers since the newspaper was banned. The callers make threats and then hang up, he said. “When I call them back I do not get a response. Another one called and said, ‘Do you value your life?’ ” he told CPJ.
The information minister, Mwakyembe, told CPJ he was unsatisfied with the explanation that the newspaper could not comply with the directive because it had already gone to press. He said that while Tanzania guarantees freedom of the press, it limits it when the rights and liberties of other individuals are infringed upon or when the press threatens “the foundation of the nation.”
The minister told CPJ the paper can appeal the ban.
Mawio has faced government action previously. In January 2016, CPJ documented how the newspaper was banned for allegedly inciting violence in its articles. A court later overturned the decision.
The ban on Mawio comes amid increasing restrictions on the press by the Magufuli government. Since he came to office in October 2015, Magufuli’s government has stopped live transmission of parliamentary debates. In March, Magufuli warned the media about the limits of press freedom, according to a report by Bloomberg.