Rights groups criticise Tanzanian leader over repression

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Four years of Tanzanian President John Magufuli’s rule have stifled independent journalism and severely restricted the activities of non-governmental organisations, two international human rights groups said yesterday.

With one year to go before the next elections, repressive laws have created an uneven playing field for people challenging the ruling party, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say in separate reports released jointly.

They said arbitrary arrests and threats to deregister non-governmental groups have stifled reporting and public discussion on alleged human rights violations.

Since his election in 2015 Magufuli has faced criticism for intolerance of dissenting voices in the East African nation.

“As President Magufuli marks four years in office next month, he must carefully reflect on his government’s record of ruthlessly disemboweling the country’s human rights framework,” said Roland Ebole, Amnesty International’s Tanzania researcher.

“His government must repeal all oppressive laws being used to clamp down on dissent and urgently end human rights violations and abuses,” Ebole added.

“Tanzania should show true commitment to protecting and fulfilling the rights to freedom of expression and association,” said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to put a stop to harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests of activists, journalists and opposition members.”

Human Rights Watch said it spoke to 80 journalists, bloggers, lawyers, representatives of non-governmental organisations and members of political parties for its report. Amnesty International said it interviewed 68 government officials, representatives of non-governmental and intergovernmental groups, lawyers, academics and others.

The rights groups said that since 2015, Tanzania’s government has stepped up censorship by banning or suspending at least five newspapers for content deemed critical. They include Tanzania’s major English-language daily newspaper, The Citizen, this year and four others in 2017.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli holds up a ceremonial spear in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. PHOTO: AP