Tanzania: Why Independent Inquiry Into Azory's Fate Is Crucial

Dar es Salaam — Pressure continues to mount for the need of an independent inquiry into the whereabouts of a freelance journalist, Mr Azory Gwanda, as journalists, media stakeholders and human rights activists in the country and beyond mark two years since his mysterious disappearance in November 2017.

Expressions of solidarity continue to pour in from every corner of the country over the fate of Mr Gwanda, who is believed to have been taken away by unknown people at the height of a mop-up operation in Kibiti District, Coastal Region, where killings were taking place.

He was a correspondent with Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL) when he disappeared.

Mr Gwanda had been reporting cases of mysterious killings in Kibiti in the months leading up to his disappearance. Since his disappearance, the government has been claiming to be investigating his case and that of other reported missing individuals, but so far there is no hint of any substantive findings.

"The difficult situation that faced Azory reminds us at the Nation Media Group (NMG) of our responsibility to sacrifice for others in the quest of protecting the bigger national interests," said, Mr Stephen Gitagama, the NMG's chief executive officer in his commemoration remarks.

This year's anniversary of the disappearance of the 2018 winner of the Daudi Mwangosi Prize comes when Amnesty International and Human Rights have jointly expressed deep disappointment over the pace of the investigation on his whereabouts, demanding concrete steps to be taken to resolve the matter.

The two human rights organisations made the call when they launched their reports on October 28 in the Kenyan capital Nairobi where they called for "credible and effective investigation" of abuses against journalists and activists.

Tanzania Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (TCHRD) Coordinator Mr Onesmo Olengurumwa said that they will continue believing that Mr Gwanda is alive until when an independent inquiry formed to investigate his whereabouts prove otherwise.

"Azory's family continues to suffer as it is not sure whether he is alive or not. It is very important that a special inquiry launched into his whereabouts so that this whole uncertainty is settled," he said.

Mr Olengurumwa's call is supported by Mr Gwanda's wife, Ms Anna Penoni, who in her remarks to mark the two years since the disappearance of her husband said: "I would like to ask the government to intensify efforts of investigating the whereabouts of my husband."

Civic and Legal Aid Organisation (CILAO) executive director said it was unimaginable that a person can disappear for a period of two years and the country's security organs fail to give any reasonable answers to his whereabouts.

He said that there has also been a lot of talks on the never-ending investigation but very scarce actions and findings, adding: "We need to know the truth surrounding not only Azory's whereabouts but also of others with similar cases." Yesterday, while joining hands with other stakeholders in expressing solidarity for Mr Gwanda, MCL planted a tree at its compound and unveiled a plaque in his tribute.

Speaking shortly after planting the tree, MCL's managing director Francis Nanai described Mr Gwanda as a "competent and daring journalist" who persisted in his work even when doing so posed threats to his own life.

"He believed in unearthing the truth. However, journalism has many challenges just like any other jobs, so we decided to plant this tree here to honour the legacy of Mr Gwanda. The more this tree will grow the more Gwanda's contribution will be remembered," he said.

MCL's public editor and veteran journalist Ndimara Tegambwage said the planting of the tree aims at sending the message that journalism shall never die, instead it will continue to grow, stressing efforts to stop it by inflicting pain on journalists will not succeed.

"What Gwanda fought for shall never die. The seeds that Gwanda sowed in journalism will germinate among us," said Mr Tegambwage in his brief remarks.

A journalist with MCL, who spoke on behalf of her fellow staffs, Ms Tumaini Msowoya, urged the government to speed up its efforts to investigate the whereabouts of Mr Gwanda and reminded her colleagues of prioritising professionalism and integrity when discharging their duties.

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