Tanzania: upsurge in restrictions on fundamental freedoms

Tanzania has been placed on a watch list of countries in which there are growing and worrying threats to civic space. The country is rated as obstructed on the CIVICUS Monitor, a global platform tracking civic violations around the world, who issue a quarterly watch list to highlight ongoing concerns in countries demonstrating worrying trends.

In recent months, the two-year ban imposed on an independent newspaper Mawio and ongoing threats to rights groups in Tanzania are indicative of growing restrictions on freedom of expression and association.

On 15 June 2017, the Minister of Information, Sports and Culture, Harrison Mwakyembe, suspended daily newspaper Mawio for a period of two years under the Media Services Act of 2016. The suspension was imposed after the paper mentioned the names of two former presidents in an article on corrupt practices in the mining of minerals.  A Presidential Order was published in June 2017, the same period when Mawio published the article, barring the media from making mention of names of any former president in the mining scandal. A few days after the ban the editor of Mawio newspaper reported that he received threatening calls on his mobile phone from anonymous sources.

The Media Services Act of 2016 was criticised by national and international civil society when it was first passed into law as it gives sweeping powers to the minister “to prevent or put obstacles to the publication of any content that endangers national security or public safety". Under the Act, the Minister has the authority to act against the media with no recourse for appeals on decisions he makes. Aggrieved parties are burdened with court applications against the decisions of the Minister.

This is not the first time Mawio has been closed. In December 2015, it was banned for its coverage of a political crisis after elections in the semi-autonomous Zanzibar islands. The courts ruled against the ban.

“The ban on Mawio newspaper is a direct assault on freedom of the press. Since the administration of President John Pombe Joseph Magufuli took over power in November 2015, the media has faced persistent restrictions forcing many to self-censor,” says Teldah Mawarire, Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, with CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance. “The press in Tanzanian should be allowed to ask questions, investigate corruption and voice opinions without fear of retribution from politicians.”

In addition, there has been a spike in anti-gay rhetoric against LGBTI activists and NGOs. In June 2017, President Magufuli slammed NGOs that work on LGBTI matters and government officials threatened to deregister and shut down civil society organisations that promote and protect LGBTI rights. In February 2017, the government shut down the operations of 40 health centres providing HIV and Aids services, accusing them of promoting homosexuality. Before that, the government threatened to publish a list of gay persons but rescinded on the threat several days later.

CIVICUS calls on the Tanzanian government to lift the ban on Mawio newspaper and create an enabling environment for the press and rights organisations to operate without fear of intimidation.


For more information contact:

Teldah Mawarire

Advocacy and Campaigns Officer, CIVICUS


Tel: 0027 11 833 5959