Coverage of former Presidents off-limits for Tanzania’s media

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the two-year ban that the government has imposed on the privately-owned weekly Mawio after it ran a story linking two former presidents to massive tax fraud in the mining sector. RSF is also concerned about harassment of journalists who try to provide detailed coverage of the activities of mining companies in Tanzania.

The 24-month ban was imposed by information minister Harrisson Mwakyembe on 16 June, since when Mawio editor Simon Mkina has been receiving anonymous telephone threats.

The ban was prompted by a story linking former presidents Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete to large-scale tax fraud by mining companies. The Mawio story claimed that both Mkapa and Kikwete signed dubious contracts with companies that have allegedly cheated the Tanzanian state of massive sums since the 1990s.

“This ban is totally excessive,” said Clea Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “This draconian measure contradicts presidential promises of democratic governance in Tanzania and sends an intimidatory message to all of the country’s media.”

Mawio’s controversial story was published just days after a commission of enquiry appointed by the current president, John Magufuli, issued a report in which it estimated that the Tanzanian state had lost 75 billion euros as a result of tax evasion by mining companies since 1998.

The report did not, however, mention either Mkapa or Kikwete in its conclusions and, referring to the two former presidents in comments delivered in the presidential palace on 14 June, Magufuli warned journalists that they would face severe measures if they did not “stop tarnishing their reputation.”

According to Mawio’s editor, the newspaper’s latest issue with the controversial story had already been printed when Magufuli delivered this warning.

Last March, information minister Nape Nnauye was summarily fired after calling for an investigation into a heavy-handed raid on a radio station by Dar es Salaam’s governor.

Mining is a very sensitive subject. Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) issued an alert on 25 April expressing concern about the harassment of Tanzanian media outlets that cover the activities of Acacia Mining, a company based in the northwest that is a subsidiary of Toronto-based Barrick Gold, the world’s largest gold mining company.

The CJFE said the police had assisted the harassment in some cases. It also cited a case of a journalist who was warned that he would be accused of “acting against the interest of the nation” if he did not stop covering Acacia Mining.

Tanzania is ranked 71st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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Mise à jour le 21.06.2017