19 June 2017

Tanzania: Editor of Banned 'Mawio' Fears for His Life

Photo: The Citizen
Newspapers on sale in Dar es Salaam. The government has warned the media again linking retired presidents with the controversy surrounding the export of mineral concentrates (file photo).

Dar es Salaam — The owner and editor-in-chief of banned weekly Mawio said yesterday that he had received threatening phone calls.

Mr Simon Mkina told the French news agency AFP that he had received at least three threatening, anonymous phone calls after the Minister of Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, imposed a two-year ban on the newspaper last week.

"After the newspaper's suspension, I have received three phone calls threatening me," he said in a telephone interview. "One of them, a male voice, asked me if I attached any value to my life. I asked him who he was but he hang up. The call did not show a number, so I could not call the person back," he added.

Mr Mkina said he had reported the matter to the police, who told him that it would be difficult to do anything since they were anonymous calls.

Dr Mwakyembe last Thursday banned Mawio after it published a story linking retired presidents Jakaya Kikwete and Benjamin Mkapa with dubious mining contracts.

The newspaper was banned just a day after President John Magufuli warned the media against dragging the names of the former heads of state into the controversy surrounding the shipping out of mineral concentrates.

The names of Mr Kikwete and Mr Mkapa popped up in the media after a second presidential committee released on Monday an explosive report claiming that Tanzania had lost Sh108 trillion in the irregular export of concentrates since 1998. The report implicates several ministers and senior officials who served in the two previous government.

Dr Magufuli issued the warning after holding talks with Barrick Gold Corporation executive John Thornton at State House.

"I have carefully read both reports, and haven't seen anywhere where Mzee Mkapa and Mzee Kikwete have been mentioned. The media should stop tarnishing their reputation. They have done a lot for this country. We should let them rest."

This is the second time Mawio has been banned by the government. In January 2016 the government imposed an indefinite ban on the newspaper after publishing a story under the banner headline "Machafuko yaja Zanzibar" (strife imminent in Zanzibar) However, the decision was quashed by the High Court in March, this year.

Mr Mkina reiterated yesterday that the newspaper would challenge the latest ban in court.

"We are in the process of engaging a good lawyer. We hope to file our case next week," he said.

Meanwhile, the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) and the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) have condemned the ban.

MCT and THRDC said in a joint press conference yesterday that the decision was bitter reminder of oppressive media laws that were in force in Tanzania.

Referring to the Newspapers Act 1976, which has since been repealed, and the Media Services Act, THRDC national coordinator Onesmo Olengurumwa said draconian laws gave information ministers arbitrary powers to ban newspapers and media houses.

"We are against any legal procedure that gives the minister powers to control the media industry... the current law is not any better as it also gives the minister arbitrary and discretionary powers to ban newspapers," he said.

Additional reporting by Prosper Kaijage

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