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Tanzania Bans Paper, Detains Editor

TANZANIA

DAR ES SALAAM - A member of The Media Project in Tanzania reports that the Tanzanian government has permanently deregistered the weekly investigative newspaper he edits, called Mawio.

The Minister of Information, Culture, Arts and Sport, Nape Nnauye, announced the decision on Saturday, claiming that the newspaper has been writing seditious stories for years. The government didn’t identify any stories in making this claim.

This move is the latest in censorious behavior by Tanzania's government. In late 2013, Tanzania suspended a daily newspaper, Mtanzania, for 90 days and another daily, Mwananchi, for 14 days. In June 2012, the government suspended a Swahili-language weekly, MwanaHalisi, banning it indefinitely. The high court overturned the ban recently, allowing MwanaHalisi to publish again.

Research organizations in the United States show that the government of Tanzania has repressed other media outlets in recent years, including the Tanzania Daima and RAI newspapers in 2011.

"Allowing for a free and uncensored press is the hallmark of an enlightened society and government," said Paul D. Glader, an associate professor at The King's College in New York City and executive director of The Media Project, a non-profit that conducts journalism training globally. "Leaders in Tanzania need to reconsider this tactic of micromanaging and intimidating the press. We expect them to be forthright and fair toward Mkina and other newspaper editors and reporters in their country. Politics of intimidation toward the press will only set the country back in its development."

The owner, founder and editor-in-chief of Mawio weekly, Simon Mkina, who is an alumnus of The Media Project's coaching and leadership program at The Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., said on Sunday that he was puzzled by the government's actions.

"The decision has come like lightning. I couldn’t imagine this from the new government that promised to be 'a friend' to the media. This is not fair to [knit shut] peoples’ lips through their newspaper," Mkina said.

Apart from the ban, Mkina told The Media Project that police brought him in for questioning, along with his assistant editor Jabir Idrissa, for undisclosed reasons.

"I have just arrived home from Central Police Station where we have been interrogated for almost 10 hours, from 02:36pm to 10:45pm yesterday [Jan 18]," Mkina said. "We spent the night there only to be released today at 02:11pm, and we shared a cell with 93 detainees."

The police department allowed Mkina and Idrissa to leave on bail, but they are due "without fail" for additional questioning tomorrow morning at 8:00am.

"We don't know yet as to what will happen, taking us to court or something else," Mkina informed The Media Project.

Mkina says Mawio is a respected weekly that has uncovered problems in government and is a voice of the voiceless by covering issues of importance to poor citizens.

"Being deregistered, means we are not allowed to write anything anywhere - online or in print," he said.

Since the news broke that the paper was deregistered, many readers have criticized the heavy-handed move by the government on social media channels. They claim it is undemocratic and harsh.

“This is draconian. We thought such things no longer happen in most of Africa, especially a country like Tanzania that has gained some reputation as a stable democracy,” said Emeka Izeze, chief executive officer of The Guardian in Nigeria and a board member of The Media Project. “Democracy itself demands that if a newspaper runs foul of the law, it is taken to court, not banned permanently.”

The New York-based research organization Freedom House gives Tanzania mixed ratings for press freedom. “Although the constitution of Tanzania provides for freedom of speech, numerous other laws encourage self-censorship and limit the ability of the media to function effectively,” according to a report by Freedom House. “Perhaps the most notorious and widely used of these laws is the 1976 Newspaper Registration Act, which empowers authorities to register or ban publications 'in the interest of peace and good order.'”

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