Tanzania civil society rattled by Bill that restricts freedoms

Friday June 21 2019

Ms Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, in Nairobi on July 23, 2015. She has expressed concern over a Bill in Tanzania that could restrict the rights to freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly and association. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By The EastAfrican

Tanzania’s Parliament on June 21, 2019 began discussing a Bill which, if passed into law, would have dire implications for human rights in the country, Amnesty International (AI) said.

The Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments No. 3 of 2019) Bill, made public on June 19 and being debated under a “certificate of urgency” to speed up its passage, would restrict the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association, including placing impermissible restrictions on civil society organisations and entrenching censorship, AI warns.

Members of the civil society cried foul over the short notice to provide feedback on the Bill on the morning of June 21.

“The Tanzania government must allow for meaningful participation in law making processes by giving people adequate time to review, collate and present their views on a law that will impact their lives enormously,” said Ms Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

The Written Laws Bill would effect changes to eight existing Acts of Parliament. Some of the laws to be affected are the Companies Act, the NGO Act, the Statistics Act, and the Films and Stage Plays Act.

The proposed amendments to the Companies Act will give the Registrar of Companies broad powers and wide discretion to de-register a company on the basis of undefined and vague terms such as “terrorism financing” or “operating contrary to its objectives,” Amnesty said.



“As currently worded, the Registrar can deregister companies at will for, among other reasons, associating with or supporting the activities of NGOs, which would create uncertainty in the business and employment sectors, and may reduce access to vital services to communities across the country,” Ms Jackson said.

The proposed amendments to the NGO Act likewise give the Registrar of NGOs sweeping and wide discretionary powers to suspend the organisations and evaluate and investigate their operations.

The law will also require these organisations, including community-based and self-help groups, to publish their annual audited financial reports in mainstream media, imposing a cost burden that could bankrupt small, grassroots organisations.

The proposed amendments to the Statistics Act introduce new procedures for publishing non-official information and creates an offence of dissemination of statistical information that criminalises fact checking by making illegal the publication of data that invalidates, distorts, or discredits official government statistics.

“These proposals imply the government has the monopoly on national data and the exclusive ability to analyse the data. This is the information age and the Government of Tanzania must not criminalise access to information,” Ms Jackson added.

The Bill proposes to amend the Films and Stage Plays Act to introduce censorship of foreign productions filmed in the country. If it passes, foreign content producers must submit all raw footage, where it was shot, and a final copy of the production to the Tanzania Film Board.