The government restricted the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly in the run-up to the October elections. The President declared Tanzania to be COVID-19-free in June. The authorities severely restricted media freedom, claiming they were curbing the “spread of false news” on the pandemic. Media outlets were shut down for reporting on political events. Pregnant schoolgirls were banned from mainstream schools and segregated in alternative education centres.
On 28 October, Tanzania held its sixth general election since the reintroduction of the multi-party system in 1992. In November, the President began his second term in office following a controversial election. In the run-up to, during and after elections, opposition politicians and hundreds of their supporters were arbitrarily arrested and beaten by the police, and others were killed. Several politicians, including Tundu Lissu, the presidential candidate for Chadema, the main opposition party, and opposition politicians, Lazaro Nyalandu and Godbless Lema and his family fled the country after the elections, fearing persecution.
The government withheld information relating to COVID-19 and disregarded WHO guidance about how governments, health professionals and the general public should respond to the pandemic. There was no reliable or prompt system of accurate information on the pandemic at the end of the year. On 29 April, the government stopped publishing information on infection rates. On 5 June, the President announced that the country was free of COVID-19, making it harder for Tanzanians to take adequate steps to protect themselves from infection.
In April, the President pardoned 3,717 prisoners in line with WHO recommendations to decongest prisons to limit the spread of COVID-19. However, prisons remained overcrowded, putting prisoners’ health at risk. There were 32,438 prisoners, of which 17,974 were on remand; the prison population was 9% over capacity.
Pregnant girls and young mothers were discriminated against in the education sector. The government continued to ban them from schools and used a World Bank loan – intended for the improvement of girls’ secondary school education – to maintain their segregation in alternative learning centres, where the four-year lower secondary school curriculum was compressed into two years.
The authorities used legislation to silence peaceful dissent and severely restricted the right to freedom of expression and media freedom, particularly in the run-up to the elections.
In April, the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA) fined Star Media Tanzania Limited, Multichoice Tanzania Limited and Azam Digital Broadcast Limited TZS5 million (US$2,150), and ordered them to apologize for “spreading false and misleading information” on the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, an offence contrary to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority Act. Later that month, the TCRA suspended Mwananchi, an online newspaper, for six months and fined it TZS5 million (US$2,150) for publishing a photo of the President in which he appeared to breach physical distancing guidelines. The authorities said that Mwananchi had violated the 2018 Electronic and Postal (Online Content) Regulations.
The government penalized newspapers and broadcasting stations, particularly between June and October, for reporting on political events related to the elections. The Tanzania Daima newspaper was given an indefinite ban on all print runs and distribution; the online television network, Kwanza TV, was suspended for 11 months, and Clouds TV and Clouds FM Radio were suspended for seven days.
In August, the TCRA amended the Electronic and Postal Communications (Radio and Television Broadcast) Regulations to limit international media coverage of the elections. Local broadcasters were obliged to obtain the regulator’s permission to air content produced by, or in collaboration with, foreign media. The amendments also required that foreign journalists be accompanied by government officials while on assignments.
The authorities subjected human rights defenders to intimidation, harassment, threats, arbitrary arrests and detention, and prosecution. Human rights organizations faced closure or suspension if they did not meet excessive requirements imposed by legislation and various regulations.
Human rights lawyer Tito Elia Magoti and Theodory Giyani remained in detention following their arbitrary arrests in December 2019. They were held in connection with their social media activities and charged under various laws, including the Cybercrimes Act, of “possessing a computer programme designed for the purpose of committing an offence”, as well as with “leading organized crime, and money laundering”. Their cases were adjourned more than 10 times by a court in Dar es Salaam after the prosecution repeatedly asked for more time to complete their investigations.
In July, police arrested Sheikh Issa Ponda, an Islamic cleric, in Ilala, a district of Dar es Salaam. They held him for 10 days for circulating an article which they alleged amounted to incitement and a breach of the peace during the run-up to an election. In his article, he had highlighted the need for an independent electoral body and had claimed that Muslims faced discrimination, especially in recruitment to government jobs. After his release, people he believed to be police officers threatened to re-arrest him and in August he went into hiding, where he remained at the end of the year.
The government increasingly controlled and prevented the work of NGOs, severely restricting the right to freedom of association.
On 24 June, the Registrar of NGOs suspended the activities of Inclusive Development for Citizens – Tanzania, an organization which promoted good governance. It was accused of failing to provide details of its 2019 activities, a list of its members and agreements with donors, among other things, in violation of the Non-Governmental Organizations Act and NGO regulations.
On the same day, the Registrar issued notices to the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) and the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), demanding that they explain within seven days why legal measures, including deregistration for flouting NGO laws, should not be taken against them. The Registrar also ordered the LHRC to suspend any election-related activities. Following this, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) refused both NGOs’ applications to observe the general elections.
In August, the THRDC, which comprised more than 160 individuals and organizations, announced the temporary suspension of its operations after police ordered the freezing of its accounts for not complying with the Non-Governmental Organizations Act. The THRDC was accused of entering agreements with donors without consulting the Office of the Treasury Registrar and the Office of the Registrar of NGOs.
In June, in the Kilwa region, police arrested Zitto Kabwe, leader of the ACT-Wazalendo opposition party, along with seven other party members. The party said the men were accused of “endangering the peace” while attending a party meeting which the police said was illegal. They were released on bail the following day and were not given any details of their alleged offences.
In July, police arrested Nusrat Hanje, Secretary General of Chadema’s youth wing, and five other party members, in the Singida region west of Dodoma city, after they had hoisted the party’s flag while singing the national anthem. Charges against them included “illegal assembly, ridiculing the national flag and the national anthem, and conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace.” They were denied bail and detained at Singida prison on 10 July where they remained for 133 days, despite the High Court in Dodoma allowing their appeal against refusal of bail on 26 August. The Director of Public Prosecution dropped the charges against the six on 23 November.
In August, police arrested Joseph Mbilinyi, who was running as a parliamentary candidate for the Mbeya Urban constituency and accused him of holding an unauthorized demonstration. He was arrested on his way to collect nomination forms from the regional NEC offices. He was released the same day without charge.
In November police arrested and charged Freeman Mbowe, the chairman of Chadema and three party members with “terrorism offences” for calling for countrywide protests against the conduct of the October elections. Tundu Lissu (see above, Background) was arrested the following day. They were all released on bail.
In February, the Resident Magistrate Court of Dar es Salaam at Kisutu released investigative journalist Erick Kabendera from prison after he entered a plea bargain agreement with the prosecution. He had been abducted by unidentified men in July 2019. Twenty-four hours later, the police confirmed he was in their custody. He was later charged with money laundering and involvement in organized crime.
Erick Kabendera was subjected to a prolonged court trial which was adjourned 16 times. He said he was tortured in Segerea prison in Dar es Salaam. He also suffered repeated bouts of illness and was refused permission to visit his sick mother who died while he was in prison. The court ordered him to pay the Director of Public Prosecution over TZS273 million (US$116,000) to cover, among other things, alleged tax evasion debts and a fine. He was required to pay within six months or be re-arrested.
In May, police arrested comedian Idris Sultan, and released him 10 days later, on bail of TZS15 million (US$6,550). He was held in connection with a video he distributed on social media in which he allegedly mocked the President. He was charged with “failure to register a SIM card previously owned by another person,” and “failure to report change of ownership of a SIM card.” His case was adjourned by the Resident Magistrate Court of Dar es Salaam at Kisutu at least nine times and remained pending at the end of the year.
In June, Parliament passed the Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act No. 3 of 2020 which, among other things, required claimants, under the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act, to submit affidavits showing that violations had affected them directly. It therefore undermined public interest lawsuits and government accountability for human rights violations.