The suspension was ordered by the print media regulatory authority, a direct offshoot of the information ministry, which accused the widely read newspaper of publishing “false and misleading” information about a devaluation in the Tanzanian shilling.
After checking with banks and currency exchange bureaux, The Citizen reported on 23 February that the US dollar was actually selling for 2,415 Tanzanian shillings, although the central bank official rate was 2,300 shillings.
“The suspension of this leading independent newspaper is the latest in a long list of press freedom violations, of which the scale and frequency are alarming,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “Tanzania used to be regarded as an exception in a region where civil liberties are constantly threatened, but it has now joined the club of regimes that are press freedom predators. The authorities must end this suspension at once and guarantee the freedom to disseminate news and information, as required by the constitution.”
Eight western embassies condemned the suspension on social networks, suggesting that it was out of all proportion to the alleged offence. Hassan Habasi, who is the government’s spokesman as well as heading the print media regulator, did not respond to RSF’s calls and messages.
Under the Statistics Act that Tanzania adopted in 2017, publishing statistics at variance with the official figures is punishable by fines and prison sentences. The legislative arsenal that can be deployed against independently reported information was also reinforced in April 2018 by a law under which online content producers have to pay exorbitant accreditation fees to register with the authorities. RSF said at the time that it would destroy Tanzania’s blogosphere.
According to RSF’s tally, at least four newspapers and six radio stations have been suspended since John Magufuli became president in 2015. Last November, two representatives of the Committee to Protect Journalists were arrested and forced to leave the country. At the same time, the authorities have conducted no serious investigation into the disappearance of Azory Gwanda, a reporter for Mwananchi (The Citizen’s Swahili version), who went missing in November 2017 while investigating a series of murders of local officials in the eastern Pwani region.
Tanzania is ranked 93rd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index after falling ten places in the space of a year, one of the biggest falls registered by any country.