Tanzanian President Magufuli warns newspapers over dissent

Friday January 13 2017

Tanzanian President John Magufuli said on Friday the "days were numbered" for newspapers deemed to incite dissent, comments that will add to opposition concern that his government is further narrowing the space for public criticism.

President Magufuli, nicknamed "the bulldozer" for pushing through his policies, has won praise for an anti-corruption drive and cutting wasteful public spending, but opponents accuse him of increasingly undermining democracy by curbing dissent and stifling free speech.

The government declared opposition protest illegal last year. Some privately-owned newspapers have published articles criticising the president's handling of the economy and some governance issues.

READ: Now Tanzania gagging the opposition both in and out of parliament

"We will not allow Tanzania to be a dumpyard for inciting (newspaper) content. This will not happen under my administration," President Magufuli told a rally in the northwestern town of Shinyanga.

He accused two newspapers, which he did not name, of seeking to cause trouble. "Whenever you read them, they are full of inciting content ... their days are numbered," he said.


Government officials said he was likely referring to one English daily and another Swahili daily owned by a privately-owned media organisation. Both newspapers have published some critical articles on the government's policies.

The president in November signed into law a bill that journalists said was aimed at muzzling freedom of the press.

The Media Services Act of 2016 gives officials powers to shut down media organisations that violate their licences by confiscating printing machines.

READ: Tanzanian media council takes government to EAC court over new law

Tanzania last month charged the co-founder of a website where people can post comments about officials they believe are corrupt.

Maxence Melo Mubyazi, 40, managing director and co-founder of JamiiForums website, was charged with multiple counts of obstructing justice and running an unregistered website.

The rights group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, said this week Tanzania should investigate corruption allegations instead of "pressurising a website to violate its users' trust and privacy".

READ: Tanzanian founder of whistle-blowing website released on bail

The country enacted a tough cybercrimes law in 2015 under which several people have been prosecuted for violations including insulting the president, punishable by up to three years in jail.

READ: Tanzanian lecturer charged with insulting Magufuli on WhatsApp

Rights activists have criticised the law and the United States cancelled nearly $500 million of funding for the country to express its disapproval.

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