from ALLOYCE KIMBUNGA in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania
DAR-ES-SALAAM, (CAJ News) – THE arrest of a cartoonist, journalist and media owner intensifies the erosion of media rights in Tanzania.
This calls into question the vow by new head of state, President Samia Suluhu Hassan, to uphold the rights of the fourth estate when she assumed power amid tragic circumstances in March.
Police, blamed over the years for partisanship to the Chama Chama Pinduzi-led government, recently arrested cartoonist Opptertus John Fwema, after he published a political cartoon that is believed to have been viewed by authorities as critical of Hassan.
According to Cartooning for Peace, the cartoon depicts Hassan, as a child hitting the water in a basin with the colours of the national flag.
With his back to her, the fourth President of the Republic, Jakaya Kikwete (renamed Kiwete – the crippled one – on the back of his suit) addresses the population.
She ensures “good leadership of the country.”
This is in apparent criticism to the current president’s alleged poor management of the country and the previous president’s effort to protect her.
Kikwete is seen as Hassan’s mentor.
Police picked Fwema at his home in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, and detained him.
Law enforcers say he is under investigation on cybercrime offenses.
This evokes memories of a crackdown on similar grounds by Hassan’s predecessor, John Magufuli, who died from a heart condition in March.
The cartoonist has been released on bail after more than two weeks behind bars.
While it welcomed Fwema’s release, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) urged authorities to drop the charges.
In a separate case, police, also in Dar es Salaam, recently arrested Mgawe TV journalist, Harold Shemsanga, and the outlet’s owner, Ernest Mgawe, on charges of “illegal assembly.”
Shemsanga was arrested while covering an event by members of the women’s league of Chama Cha Mademokrasia (CHADEMA), Tanzania’s leading opposition party.
Freeman Mbowe, CHADEMA’s chairman, has been behind bars since his arrested for “terrorism” charges.
Meanwhile, police confiscated Shemsanga’s devices including a camera and laptop.
Mgawe was arrested when he went to seek bail for Shemsanga.
The Mgagwe TV duo has since been released but are still under investigation.
Muthoki Mumo, CPJ’s sub-Saharan Africa representative, criticized the clampdown on media personnel.
The activist said critical political commentary and coverage of the opposition are essential to Tanzania’s democratic discourse.
“It is deeply worrying that police are equating this kind of journalism to criminal activity,” he said on Fwema’s arrest.
Mumo said authorities must also discontinue investigations into Shemsanga and Mgawe, return their confiscated devices.
“Authorities should abandon the habit of throwing journalists behind bars for their work,” Mumo said.
Tanzania Human Rights Defenders’ Coalition echoed the sentiments.
Zonal police commander, Jumanne Muliro, has been quoted as responding to the arrest of the journalist and TV outlet owner, saying, the arrested individuals had “indications of breaching peace by using exercise as pretext to rouse political sentiments.”
Tanzania has a notoriety of clampdowns against media.
These spiked under Magufuli’s reign from 2015.
His administration shut several newspapers critical of his administration and threatened to close radio and TV stations that do not pay license fees.
A bill in 2018, requiring blogs and other forms of online content providers to hold government licences, sparked outrage.
Comedians were arrested for criticising Magufuli online and accused of cyber bullying the president.
There was a glimmer of hope after Hassan took over.
She pledged some reforms.
However, two publications have fallen victim to the crackdown under her administration.
This includes the ruling party, mouthpiece, Uhuru- that was suspended for two weeks in August for allegedly misquoting the president.
In September, the Raia Mwema newspaper was slapped with a one-month ban for “violating professional journalism standards through misleading reporting and incitement.”
Reporters Without Borders rank Tanzania 124th in its Press Freedom Index for 2021. It is unchanged from 2020.
– CAJ News