Last week on Tuesday, three Tanzanian NGOs filed a case at the East Africa Court of Justice (EACJ) over a 2016 law that they say violates press freedom.
The Media Council of Tanzania, Legal and Human Rights Centre and Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition argue that the law “violates” international conventions ratified by the East African Community, according to MCT executive secretary Kajubi Mwakajanga.
The law in question has been criticised by the media community for being too vague in its definition of what constitutes a journalist, with bloggers or anyone posting information on social media sites included. The law requires journalists to register themselves as such, which critics argue is a restriction on freedom of expression.
The three NGOs told the First Instance Division of the EACJ that the Act is a threat to press freedom and freedom of expression and thereby violates Tanzania’s obligation to uphold and protect human and people’s rights standards as stipulated in Articles 6(d) and 7(2) of the EAC Treaty.
Article 6(d) of the EAC Treaty provides for the principles of the Community as good governance, including adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, accountability, transparency, social justice, equal opportunities, gender equality, as well as the recognition, promotion and protection of human and people’s rights in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Right.
Article 7(2) provides that the partner states undertake to abide by the principles of good governance, including adherence to the principles of democracy, the rule of law, social justice and the maintenance of universally accepted standards of human rights.
The groups argue that pursuant to Article 8(1) (c) of the Treaty, Tanzania has undertaken to “abstain from any measures likely to jeopardise the achievement of those objectives or the implementation of the provisions of the Treaty.
They also argue that the Media Services Act is an unjustified restriction on the freedom of expression and of the press, which is a cornerstone of the principle of democracy, rule of law, accountability, transparency and good governance.
The petitioners, who were represented by Donald Deya, chief executive officer of the Arusha-based Pan-African Lawyers Union (Palu), Fulgence Massawe, Jenerali Ulimwengu and Jebra Kambole want the court to declare that the cited provisions violate the EAC Treaty and the freedom of expression and information.
They also want the regional court to cease application of the same and consider repealing them to conform to the EAC Treaty.
The government defended the provisions saying they are reflective of both the country’s 1977 Constitution and the EAC Treaty.
Principal State Attorney Mark Mulwambo said freedom of expression and information is not absolute, while appearing before Justices Monica Mugenyi, Fakihi A Jundu and Dr Faustin Ntezilyayo.
Tanzania’s parliament enacted the 2016 Media Services Act No. 12 on November 16, 2016. Early last year, the Media Council of Tanzania, Legal and Human Rights Centre, and Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition jointly filed a petition at the regional court challenging the Act.