Tanzania: Groups Want Govt to Roll Back Laws Stifling Dissent

Journalists and media activists demonstrate during International Press Freedom Day (file photo).

Two rights groups are calling on Tanzania's government to ease restrictions on dissent and freedom of expression imposed since President John Magufuli came to power in 2015.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch issued reports on Tanzania at a joint news conference Monday in Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

“Magufuli’s administration has passed many laws that restrict the work of journalists and intend to repress activities of civil society organizations," said Roland Ebole, lead researcher for the Amnesty International report.  He said the president needs to "carefully reflect on his government's record of ruthlessly disemboweling the country's human rights framework."

Human Rights Watch Africa researcher Oryem Nyeko said upcoming local and general elections will not be fair unless the government takes a different approach to perceived opponents.

“The finding we have that the media and civil society are effectively silenced does not create a good environment for free and fair elections," he said.  "So, we are encouraging and urging the government to ease these restrictions on civil society and the media to amend the restrictive laws."

VOA contacted Tanzanian officials to comment on the reports, but received no response.

The Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports are based on interviews with dozens of journalists, politicians, activists and other observers in Tanzania.

Magufuli came to power in November 2015 promising to fight corruption.  Previously, he was known for shutting down companies and firing government workers without due process.

Once in office, he shut down anyone who challenged his authority. In 2016, legislators approved a Magufuli-backed law that gave security agencies the power to search media organizations, seize their equipment and close them without a court order.  Since then, the government has used the law to shut down five news outlets.

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