Civil society representatives have called upon the government to uphold freedom of expression in the country after a spate of draconian legislation enacted in recent times. Speaking at the Policy Forum’s breakfast Debate titled “Taking Off to the Inclusive Society: Freedom of Expression in Tanzania” that took place on 31st March 2017, Anna Henga of the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) said that the Cybercrimes Act No.14 of 2015, the Statistics Act of 2015 and the Media Services Act No. 13 of 2016 abridged freedom of expression despite Tanzania ratifying various international human rights instruments.
Furthermore, Ms. Henga said some of the laws such as the Cybercrime Act of 2015 was passed under the Certificate of Urgency by only 86 MP (the quorum was not met) leaving Hon. Zitto Kabwe (MP) to clarify that the quorum is established in the mornings when MPs sign in but later during deliberations and voting, it is usual that they refrain from challenging the continuation of proceedings and voting if it so happens that most of the members have left the house. He called upon civic actors, however, to challenge this culture.
Expounding on the rationale of the cybecrime law, Henga said it was enacted to criminalize offences related to computer systems and information communication technologies and for investigation, collection and use of electronic evidence and related matters. She explained that the law has penalized various individuals and institutions for their political affiliations and criticism of the state and urged CSO efforts to advocate for freedom of expression. She mentioned analysis of laws, using television and radio programmes and litigation as some of the tactics that can be deployed as part of the wider strategy to enhance freedom of expression and fight for the amendments and or repealing of draconian laws.
Paul Malimbo from Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) weighed in the discussion by reminding participants the back and forth nature of how rights in the country have progressed over time. He said that prior to 1984, it was difficult for an individual whose human rights including freedom of expression were violated to demand for such rights in a court of law because it was not stipulated in the constitution but after 1987, people could demand such rights. He said the current trajectory, hence, raises concern that freedom of expression in Tanzania is regressing and that progress can be unpredictable.
An additional point on history was made by Maria Sarungi, the Director at Compass Communications who reminded that the nation’s founding father Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere rule was underpinned by the philosophy of freedom of expression and that this spirit that should continue. “We have to take responsibility to ensure that every citizen understands the mother of all laws (constitution) which considers freedom of expression as a right,” she concluded.
Policy Forum holds the People and Policy Debates on the last Friday of the month to broaden public understanding and debate on a topical policy issue. Issues chosen for the breakfast debates are wide-ranging and speakers are drawn from the public sector, academia, civil society, donor agencies and the private sector, and the talks are open to the public and attended by interested individuals and professionals.