Global civil society alliance CIVICUS welcomes the decision of Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan to lift the ban on four newspapers – Mwanahalisi, Mawio, Mseto, and Tanzania Daima – that was imposed by the late President John Magufuli between 2016 and 2020.
The announcement to lift the ban is reminiscent of a period before 2015 when there were limited restrictions on freedom of expression and media freedoms. It is also in line with recent proposals made by the government to amend the restrictive media law and create a more enabling environment for media freedoms and access to information.
However, this is only a step towards restoring press freedom in the country and a way forward to reviewing and repealing restrictive media laws to ensure that media operate freely and without fear of retaliation. To build on some of these positive steps, the government must now consult with all stakeholders in reviewing and amending laws that continue to restrict journalists and media freedoms.
Lifting the ban on the four newspapers is a significant decision in a country that experienced a marked increase in civic space restrictions and attacks on journalists and media outlets from 2015 when former President John Pombe Magufuli came to power. From 2015, the authorities revoked the licenses of media houses and newspapers for publishing or broadcasting information that were critical of the government. The authorities targeted journalists and media activists by subjecting them to arbitrary arrests, judicial persecution and smear campaigns that forced some to self-censor. Others were subjected to enforced disappearances, including investigative journalist - Azory Gwanda, who has been missing since November 2017.
"While we welcome the lifting of the ban on these newspapers, the Tanzanian authorities should immediately start the processes of amending the Media Services Act and the Cybercrimes Act to protect and promote media freedoms. This is essential for the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information by all Tanzanians", says Paul Mulindwa, CIVICUS' Advocacy and Campaigns Officer.
The legal regime in the country has been widely criticized for hampering the constitutional rights of journalists and media houses to execute their mandate. Due to such repressive laws, the government retains the power to shut down media houses at its discretion.
In light of this, CIVICUS calls on the government of Tanzania to;
- Cease any form of intimidation, harassment and attacks against media houses and journalists for publishing information that is critical of the government.
- Amend all restrictive provisions in the Media Services Act of 2016 and Cybercrimes Act based on input from media houses, journalists, and civil society so that all provisions in the legislation are in accordance with regional and international human rights mechanisms and instruments.
- Create an enabling environment for media houses and journalists to operate by removing restrictions on the right to freedom of expression to ensure that media houses, journalists, bloggers, and citizens can express themselves without fear of reprisals.
- Provide a conducive working environment for partnership, dialogue and engagements between the government, media houses, and journalists, through which the media freedoms are promoted and protected.
Civic space in Tanzania is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor.