Dar es Salaam. Today, November 21, marks two years since journalist Azory Gwanda mysteriously disappeared and to commemorate this day Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL) will plant a tree at its compound as well as unveil a plaque in his tribute.
Mr Gwanda is believed to have been taken away by unknown people at the height of a mop-up operation in Kibiti District where killings were taking place.
He was a correspondent with MCL when he disappeared. He had been reporting cases of mysterious killings in Kibiti in the months leading up to his disappearance. The government claims to be investigating his case and that of other reported missing individuals but there have not been any substantive findings.
There is at present pressure from rights activists, journalists and media organisations like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) calling on Tanzanian authorities to make Gwanda’s case a priority and to provide answers about his fate with hashtags #WhereIsAzory and #MrudisheniAzory trending on social media.
His case has lately featured in public forums on civil rights, and in 2018 won the “Daudi Mwangosi Prize” in absentia to honour his work and courage. The prize by Union of Tanzania Press Clubs is in remembrance of a TV reporter who was killed by police while covering a public protest in Iringa Region in September 2012.
In May, Mr Gwanda made the list of top “10 Most Urgent” cases compiled by One Free Press Coalition, a united group of over 30 pre-eminent editors and publishers including Reuters, Quartz, The Financial Times, India Today, TIME, and Washington Post among others. The organisations use their global reach to bring attention to some of the most concerning cases of journalists under threat. The CPJ and the International Women’s Media Foundation are also partners in the coalition.
By making the latest “10 Most Urgent” list of press freedom cases, the One Free Press Coalition is raising the spotlight on Mr Gwanda to press authorities to account for his whereabouts. The list is of journalists whose press freedoms are being suppressed or whose cases are seeking justice.
In an interview with the BBC’s ‘Focus on Africa’ on July 10, 2019, Foreign Affairs Minister Palamagamba Kabudi said that Gwanda had “disappeared and died” in the eastern area of Rufiji, adding that the government has since “been able to contain that kind of extremism” in the region. This prompted the CPJ to call on the government to provide a detailed public account of the Gwanda’s fate.
Mr Kabudi later retracted his statement by saying that it was misinterpreted and that what he meant was that what happened in the region was painful experiences which led to several people disappearing and others dying.