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Experts’ take on freedom of expression, assembly report

Monday October 19 2020
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Dar es Salaam. Political commentators and lawyers expressed different opinions over the recent findings of the Amnesty International regarding Tanzania’s status on freedom of expression and freedom of assembly ahead of the October 28 General Election.

Dubbed: Lawfare – Repression by Law Ahead of Tanzania’s General Election, the report says that the Tanzanian government has built up a formidable arsenal of laws to stifle all forms of dissent and effectively clamp down the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly ahead of this year’s elections.

The report names the laws as the Cybercrime Act 2015; the Statistics Act 2015; the Media Services Act 2016 and the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations Act 2018 as amended in 2020.

The others, according to the report, are the amended Political Parties Act 1992 and the amended Non-Governmental Organizations Act 2002.

According to the report, the laws are negatively affecting the operations of opposition parties, media and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).

But, political commentators opposed the findings, saying Tanzania as a sovereign state, is free to enact and enforce laws and regulations according to its demands.

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Others were of the view that enactment of new draconian laws and increased compliance strictness has made the situation more tense.

CCM’s political affairs and international relations secretary, Colonel (rtd) Ngemela Lubinga, did not agree with the findings of the report, saying Tanzania is a free state that shouldn’t be taught how to run itself.

“We are supposed to govern the country according to our norms, values, culture, environment and economic basis because things considered human rights violations here could be legalized somewhere else and vice versa,” he said.

Col Lubinga said the The Amnesty International report comprised own opinions, saying likewise UK researchers pointed out that President John Magufuli was the head of state leading in protecting the country’s natural resources.

The views of the CCM senior official were echoed by the State University of Zanzibar (Suza) political science lecturer, Prof Ali Makame, who said benchmarking issues of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly could prompt the difference of opinions.

“It is like homosexuality, which is allowed in some countries on grounds of human rights, but restricted in other countries basing on their values, norms and environment,” he said. “Laws have been enacted basing on legal and social basis of respective countries after following pre-requisite procedures and citizens’ involvement; therefore, countries’ decisions should be respected,” he added.

He blamed the release of the report shortly before the October General Election, saying it aimed at destabilizing the country that organises the fifth multiparty elections.

“Unlike other African countries, Tanzania has always held peaceful elections and addressed minor challenges recorded. However, with such a report, the aim is to see the country plunge into post-election disputes,” he said.

But, the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) senior political science lecturer, Prof Bakari Mohamed differed with the duo, saying the enactment of new laws since 2015 has increased the number of draconian laws that existed during previous regimes.

“The fifth phase government has also increased strictness on legal compliance unlike previous administrations, placing freedom of expression and peaceful assembly at a more tense position,” he said on the phone.

Assessing the 2020 election processes, Prof Mohamed said despite chaos reported in some parts of the country victimising opposition candidates, the use of excessive force has declined.

He hinted that allowing CCM candidates to address cadres, members and supporters when travelling to scheduled campaign centres while restricting their opposition counterparts could distract the country’s peace and tranquillity.

Prof Mohamed suggested that a debate on whether voters should stay a certain distance from the polling station or return home should be concluded well to prevent future chaos.

“Tanzania has been organising multiparty elections since the reinstatement of pluralism that doesn’t reflect its demands; rather, the country has been replicating wishes of the single party system,” he said, adding. “That is the reason why Judge Francis Nyalali’s commission recommended the repulsion of draconian laws which resulted in demand for the new constitution.”

For his part, a lecturer of Law at the Udsm, Dr James Jesse, said Amnesty International’s report echoes serious outcry from the media and NGOs regarding their freedom of carrying out their operations in the country.

According to him, there was nothing new with the report, saying most issues highlighted have been reported in various volumes that are even found online. However, he said, according to his evaluation, law enforcers have minimized the utilization of excessive force during campaigns, probably following President Magufuli’s instructions that extreme powers should be avoided.

“The president’s directives have significantly reduced incidents of arbitrary arrests and harassment during election campaigns, otherwise the situation would have been worse despite stakeholder’s self-censorship,” he said.

Launching the report last Monday, the Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa Deprose Muchena said Tanzania has weaponized the law to the point that no one really knows when they are on the right or wrong side of it.

“Politicians have been arrested for holding or attending meetings, media houses suspended and banned, online activism criminalized, and NGOs stifled with endless regulations,” he said.

The report recommended that President Magufuli should publicly commit that his government will respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights before, during and after the elections and that it will not tolerate human rights violations and abuses.

Furthermore, the report wants Dr Magufuli’s regime to carry out prompt, thorough, transparent and effective investigations into any allegations of violations and abuses and bring the suspects and perpetrators to justice.

“The president should publicly condemn all threats, intimidation, harassment and attacks against opposition politicians, religious leaders, human rights defenders, activists, NGOs, media outlets, journalists and online users,” reads part of the report.

Recommendations also want the Head of State to publicly recognise and defend the importance and legitimacy of human rights, work of human rights defenders, activists and civil society organizations, and ensure that they peacefully and independently execute their duties in the country.

The report also issues recommendations to government officials and other election stakeholders including the Home Affairs minister; minister of information, Culture, Arts and Sports; the minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs; NEC; political parties; candidates and observers to efficiently execute their duties to make this year’s elections a success.The report has issued proposals to Regional and global bodies including the East African Community (EAC); the Southern African Development Community (Sadc); African Union (AU), the United Nations (UN) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

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