SANEF recognises the role that South Africa played in securing the release from Tanzania of Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) media activists Muthoki Mumo and Angela Quintal - a former Executive member of SANEF and former editor of Mail & Guardian.
But SANEF is alarmed that International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu went on later to defend the high-handed actions of the Tanzanian government, which claimed that the two media activists had entered the country on incorrect visas. Sisulu said they should have travelled on business visas.
After their release from five-hours of detention and back at their hotel waiting for their passports to be returned, Quintal briefed South African diplomats about the purpose of their trip.
Quintal has explained that CPJ never travels undercover and are always open about their visits. “We even had a letter of invitation from the government-recognised press regulator, the Media Council of Tanzania, and double-checked the visa requirements,” she said.
She said that CPJ had been told that for “meetings, conferences and tourism”, Kenyan and South African citizens did not require a business visa.
Regardless of the visa dispute, the two activists insist that they were interrogated not by immigration officials as claimed by Tanzania and accepted by Sisulu, but by intelligence agents, who were abusive at times, slapping and shoving Mumo.
Quintal has explained that they had embarked on a 10-day visit to Tanzania on 31 October to meet journalists, human rights defenders, and politicians. They were also querying the whereabouts of investigative journalist Avory Gwanda, who has been missing for a year.
It is clear from Quintal’s account that this was no ordinary immigration check, and the implications are worrying. As she put it in her first-hand report: “While we could fly out of Dar, we remain concerned that the journalists we left behind did not have the luxury of doing the same. We fear they will be targeted when the furore dies down and that the suppression of the Tanzanian press will escalate in the lead-up to the 2020 election. Local journalists deserve the same support and solidarity that Muthoki and I received.”
Their ordeal points to growing repression in Tanzania and increasing hostility against media practitioners. Sisulu should distance South Africa from such high-handed, unacceptable treatment. Some serious transgressions allegedly took place, and we encourage Sisulu to not cover up, but investigate further to establish the full picture.