The European Union yesterday joined the Cybercrimes Act debate and urged President Jakaya Kikwete to listen to those who are opposed to the new law and decline to sign it.
Speaking with The Citizen yesterday, EU Delegation Head Filiberto Sebregondi and Development Partners Chairperson Sinika Antila told the President to make “wise decisions”. They did not go into details.
The move comes barely a day after State House Communications Director Salva Rweyemamu told reporters that President Kikwete would soon sign the Cybercrime Bill into law as scheduled. According to Mr Rweyemamu, the controversial Bill will help curb online security threats.
Cybersecurity refers to methods used to protect information from being stolen, compromised or attacked. This requires an understanding of potential information threats, such as viruses and other malicious code. Cybersecurity issues and strategies include identity, risk and incident management.
But some critics say that the Bill passed recently focuses more on defamation and not protection of users. Speaking with The Citizen yesterday, the envoys stressed the need to consider stakeholder opinions of the law, given that the law has sparked off a public outcry.
While the government claims that it is aimed at safeguarding the booming computer business and smartphone users, critics see the law purely as censorship amid fears of the death of the Internet era.
To the government, the Cybercrime Act is simply aimed at curbing the rise in Internet-associated crimes. But a section of lawmakers, press freedom stakeholders and bloggers see it is a draconian step that has no place in a democratic state.
According to Mr Sebregondi, some provisions of the two bills may have unintended effects and some are likely to infringe on freedom of information and expression.
“We call upon the President to observe the unintended effects and maintain Tanzania’s track record of upholding freedom of information and opinion,” he said.
Freedom of the press and information
President Kikwete has been faced with appeals urging him not to sign the bills on the grounds that it would infringe on freedom of information. In the media, there have been scathing editorials and growing anger, with the Tanzania Editors Forum condemning the two bills saying that if passed, they would muzzle press freedom.
Finland’s ambassador to Tanzania told The Citizen that both freedom of expression and laws were important. But she was quick to point out that it was also important to prepare laws in a transparent manner.
“I trust that the Head of State is listening to everything that is coming from members of the public and I am sure he will indeed make good and wise decisions,” she added.
Stakeholders are of the view that Tanzania could become one of the harshest territories for publishing firms, researchers and academicians to work in, after Parliament passed the Statistics Bill towards the end of March 2015 limiting the publication of data to only those from the government’s own Bureau of Statistics.
Parliament passed the Bill last month. It slaps a stiff penalty on anyone who puts out data or statistics outside those provided in the publications by the Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics.
The Bill was approved despite strong objections from opposition MPs, who described it as one of the most draconian laws in the country.
Human rights activists have threatened to go to court should the bills be signed into law. Recently, the national co-ordinator of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), Mr Onesmo ole Ngurumwa, told The Citizen that a consortium of human rights groups was working on the possibility of going to court should President Jakaya Kikwete sign the bills.
Yesterday, Kigoma South MP David Kafulila said the two bills were tabled in Parliament to ensure that the ruling CCM remains in power.
“This is a strategy by the government to protect CCM because they know that, as the election nears, people will have enough time to air their views on online platforms,” Mr Kafulila said.