Rights experts call on Tanzania to end ‘crackdown’ on civic space

22 July 2020

Tanzania should allow peaceful gatherings to take place ahead of elections in October and step back from “draconian” laws, UN-appointed independent rights experts said on Wednesday.

In their written appeal, the three Special Rapporteurs also maintained that the Government was not meeting its commitments on information sharing and transparency, after it stopped releasing statistics on COVID-19 cases at the end of April.

Shrinking civic space

Urging the authorities to drop measures “that further curb civic space”, they cited in particular the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act, which “will ultimately prevent organisations from filing cases on behalf of victims” of rights abuses.

In a statement, the Special Rapporteurs warned that the amendments had been “fast-tracked through Parliament without meaningful consultations”.

These were just “the latest in a string of newly enacted draconian legislation” used to intimidate activists, silence journalists and further restrict freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, they added.

The development comes against a backdrop of deteriorating human rights in Tanzania, according to the UN-appointed experts, who operate in an independent capacity and report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In 2016, opposition political gatherings were barred and there were “repeated arrests of opposition members, activists and critics”, said Clément Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights of peaceful assembly and association, Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders and David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression.

Journalists under pressure

Other measures impacting even more widely, include laws limiting free media, electronic communication and public use of statistics.

“Under Government orders, multiple newspapers, radios and online TVs that expressed criticism of the President and Government, have also been heavily fined and/or suspended,” the experts said.

President John Magufuli declared the country virus-free in early June. However, several internet-based broadcaster and online stations have been suspended and fined for allegedly “transmitting false and misleading information” on the country’s approach to managing COVID-19, the experts said, adding that COVID-19 had “further compounded pre-existing human rights concerns, notably regarding the right to freedom of expression, including freedom to seek, receive and impart information”.

The “crackdown” has escalated in recent weeks, they continued, with reports that an opposition leader was attacked by unidentified assailants, and eight opposition members were arrested for alleged unlawful assembly.

Police raid rights defenders

A newspaper’s licence was also suspended, they said, noting too that a police raid had taken place during training organised by the Tanzanian Human Rights Defenders Coalition.

The Special Rapporteurs noted that they had attempted to engage with the Government of Tanzania on numerous occasions.

“The constant intimidation and harassment of activists and critics is unacceptable and must stop immediately,” they added.

 

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