Monday, May 18, 2015

Activists head to court over new laws

Sikika executive director, Mr Irenei Kiria.

Sikika executive director, Mr Irenei Kiria. 

Dar es Salaam. Human rights groups said yesterday they would be moving to court to challenge the newly enacted Cybercrimes Act 2015 and the Statistics Act 2013.

The activists said they were disappointed about the move by President Jakaya Kikwete to sign into laws the two Bills which they had petitioned him to return to Parliament.

They said their well-meant appeal to the President was intended to allow for a review of the offending parts of the laws which, they argue, infringe on the constitutional rights to freedom and expression.

In a joint statement sent to media houses yesterday, the activists accuse Mr Kikwete of “slapping the public on the face” by failing to heed their appeal not to sign the Bills which they say would roll back the progress Tanzania has so far made in the areas of democracy and human rights.

The groups that intend to challenge the two laws in court include Sikika, Jamii Media, and Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC). “We appeal to like-minded groups and individuals in the country to lend their support and join in the push to repeal these laws immediately,” read the statement.

Sikika executive director, Mr Irenei Kiria, said they have been disappointed by the information from the National Assembly Speaker that the President has assented into law two draconian pieces of legislation.

The statement says further that apart from wananchi’s efforts to plead and convince the Head of State to allow the review of the Bills, he has gone ahead and signed them into law.

“This has happened despite concerted efforts by the citizens, civil society and media, to urge revision of the Bills before signing them into law, due to a number of irregularities that will severely infringe on fundamental rights and freedoms thus far enjoyed by Tanzanians,” reads part of the statement.

According to the activists, the two laws, in their current form, suppress the right to freedom of expression and right to access information as provided under Article 18 of the United Republic of Tanzania Constitution of 1977 as lastly amended in 2005.

They noted that in the 19 parliamentary session, the government presented five Bills under certificate of urgency, a strategy which aimed at minimising time for discussion and deny MPs and wananchi enough time to scrutinise the contents of the Bills.

However, two Bills out of the five were retracted and the Cybercrimes Bill 2015 and the Statistics Bill 2013 were tabled, discussed and passed with similar provisions that undermine freedom of expression and access to information.

The two Bills which were retracted, include the Access to Information Bill and the Media Services Bill

“This meant that the Bills could not be subjected to detailed scrutiny as ones brought under usual procedure. This in itself raises serious doubts as to why the current administration, which is in its final year of tenure, tries to pass a number of Bills that curtail freedom of information in such a rush,” reads the statement.

The activists analyse some contradicting and dangerous provisions in the signed Bills, arguing that their intentions were to suppress freedom of expression.