NAIROBI, June 17– The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged Tanzania to immediately revoke a publishing ban on Mawio, a privately owned weekly newspaper.
Tanzania’s information, sports, and culture minister Harrison Mwakyembe imposed a 24-month ban on Mawio’s print editions and any articles posted online on Thursday 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 a statement released by the director of information services Hassan Abbasi.
The statement, viewed by CPJ, accused Mawio 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 allowed authorities to “prohibit or otherwise sanction the publication of any content that jeopardises 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,” CPJ Africa programme co-ordinator Angela Quintal said in New York.
“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,” she said.
Speaking at State House in Dar es Salaam on June 14 Tanzanian President John Magufuli warned the media not to link the two former presidents to the mining contract investigation, according to The Citizen newspaper.
Tanzania was investigating contracts signed in the 1990s and 2000s. The privately owned newspaper The East African reported that the country may have lost as much as US30 billion in mining revenue due to understatements of the value of exports. Neither of the former presidents was under investigation.
Mawio’s managing editor Simon Mkina told CPJ that the newspaper was already being distributed by the time the directive was made by Magufuli.
Mkina said he had received three calls from unknown numbers since the newspaper was banned. The callers made threats and then hung 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.
Mwakyembe told the CPJ he was not satisfied with the explanation that the newspaper could not comply with the directive because it had already gone to press. He said that while Tanzania guaranteed freedom of the press, it limited it when the rights and liberties of other individuals were infringed upon or when the press threatened “the foundation of the nation”. He said the paper could appeal the ban.
Mawio had faced government action previously. In January 2016, the CPJ documented how the newspaper was banned for allegedly inciting violence in its articles. A court later overturned the decision.
The ban on Mawio came amid increasing restrictions on the press by the Magufuli government. Since he came to office in October 2015 Magufuli’s government had stopped live transmission of parliamentary debates. In March, Magufuli warned the media about the limits of press freedom, according to a report by Bloomberg, the CPJ said.