27 October 2010

Tanzania: Government Threatens to Deregister Two Newspapers

press release

The Tanzanian Government has threatened to either ban or deregister the "Mwananchi" and "MwanaHalisi" newspapers for allegedly publishing materials with the intention of inciting chaos and breaking peace in the country. The threat was communicated through a letter made public by the papers themselves.

In the letter sent to "Mwananchi", the government said it will not hesitate to take stern measures should the newspaper continue publishing "inciting news" against the government.

The letter bearing a "confidential stamp" and signed by Raphael Hokororo from the Newspapers Registrar on 11 October 2010, requires the newspaper to immediately stop publishing inciting and humiliating news, which tarnish the country and the government, in the name of freedom of expression as stipulated in the Constitution. It says the government will not hesitate to suspend or deregister the newspaper if it continues publishing negative articles against it.

According to issue No. 211, Wednesday 20-26 October 2010, of the "MwanaHalisi" newspaper, the paper also received a threatening letter on 15 October that said the government will take legal action against it if it continues to publish articles with the intention of disturbing the peace.

The government could not pinpoint the alleged articles in both newspapers; something which has prompted Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL), publisher of "Citizen", "Mwananchi" and "Mwanaspoti", to respond to the media that "it could not understand the basis of the government's allegations, which lacked examples of the disputed articles".

MCL Managing Editor Theopil Makunga was quoted by the "Citizen" newspaper issue of 20 October saying that "MCL publications were guided by editorial policy aimed at championing professionalism and integrity".

The disputed newspapers are not among defamatory and hate speech media outlets listed in the monthly reports of the 2010 Media Election Monitoring Firm, Synovate.

MISA and other civil society and human rights organizations and political parties have condemned the threat. In a statement to media houses dated 21 October, MISA-Tanzania Chairman Ayub Rioba said, "The government's threat poses a serious infringement to press freedom, while at the same time interfering with the constitutional right of citizens to be informed and to communicate their views, opinions and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers."

"MISA-Tanzania therefore calls on all citizens to consider the question of press freedom as an election issue. Voters need, therefore, to scrutinize candidates and political parties on their positions with regards to issues of press freedom and citizens' right to information and what they will do, if elected, to ensure that legislation is in place to promote and protect these rights," says the statement.

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