TUESDAY February 4, 2020
By Joe Lihundi
Tranquility News reporter
The East Africa Law Society (EALS) will write a handbook for journalists, particularly in Tanzania, to handle potential turbulence and government backlash.
The decision was reached during the first High-Level Media Stakeholders Round Table which the society organised in Arusha, Tanzania, recently to discuss on the journalists’ hostile working environment and chart out a way forward.
The goal of the round table, which will also be held in Tanzania’s commercial capital of Dar es Salaam in the near future, is to seek solutions for increasing restrictions of media freedom and freedom to speech in Tanzania.
The Arusha round table had a peer-to-peer as well as an expert engagement on potential mechanisms for operating in a continually unfriendly environment.
Participants discussed current trends, dissected recent media laws, learned ways of efficiently and impartially reporting even on sensitive matters, and looked at available redress mechanisms, including judicial platforms.
The EALS experts are expected to zoom around the country to get first-hand accounts behind challenges which Tanzania journalists face, according to the Chief Executive Officer of the society, Mr Hanningtone Amol.
He said the handbook would aim at supporting journalists in distress to report transparently without breaching core principles of their calling, given Tanzania is scheduled to conduct its General Election towards the end of this year.
Dr Paul Ogendi, the Advocate of the High Court of Kenya, presented papers on International Best Practices for Reporters and Editors and limits of Freedom of Speech.
The long-serving Advocate of the Tanzania High Court and the Legal and Human Rights Centre Advocacy and Reforms Director, Mr Fulgence Massawe, presented a paper on Recent Development in Freedom of Speech in Tanzania.
Dr Ogendi said international legal instruments had given the freedoms of expression high priority. “Everything can wait, but not the freedom of expression,” he said, as he attributed the US development to it.
However, some repressive regimes often suppressed the freedom of expression by creating restrictions which never passed a three-part test of adhering to the law of the land, proportionality and necessity.
“Owing to intrinsic value of the freedom of expression and opinion, people vigorously fought for it and some of them died,” he stressed, poking holes in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights as well as national laws for being least protective to the universal right.
Advocate Massawe cautioned journalists over Acts and regulations Tanzania Parliament hurriedly passed recently, including Media Services Act, 2016; Access to the Information Act, 2015; Cybercrimes Act, 2015; Statistics Act, 2015; and Online Content Regulations for the Electronic and Postal Communications Act (EPOCA), 2018.
“Only 86 out of 300 plus members of parliament, for instance, passed the Media Services Act, 2016, under the certificate of urgency,” he observed, adding that the Cybercrimes Act did not consider intention of a suspect in posting content online.
While the Statistics Act required media houses to consult the National Statistics Bureau before publishing any data, the Access to the Information Act though was enacted to facilitate Article 18 of the 1977 Tanzania Constitution, had further weakened the spirit and letter of the mother law, he said.
Tanzania was regarded as a beacon of hope in democratic governance on the continent, a reputation that has of late come under severe test, as fundamental rights and freedoms have deteriorated.
The space for citizens, activists, journalists and opposition politicians to freely associate and express their ideas has diminished and the country has repeatedly experienced cases of arbitrary arrests, detentions without trial and forced disappearances, among other ills.
The recently enacted laws on media have left journalists highly vulnerable, including to criminal prosecution, which is constraining the capacity of journalists and media houses to effectively pursue their watchdog role.
The continued harassment of journalists and enactment of laws and regulations, which do not conform to international standards of freedom of expression, have contributed to the shrinking of human rights in Tanzania.
Mr Azory Gwanda, a correspondent with a leading Kiswahili daily, Mwananchi, was investigating mysterious killings and disappearance of residents of Kibiti area in Coast Region when he went missing about two years ago.
Activists from across the world have been blaming the Tanzania government for not investigating into the journalist’s disappearance despite the Home Affairs Ministry reiterating now and then that it was following up on the case.
“This is wholly inadequate and distressing. The government must immediately share publicly all information it has about Gwanda’s fate,” the Committee to Protect Journalists deputy executive director, Mr Robert Mahoney, was quoted as saying from New York.
Mr Eric Kabendera, who wrote for various local and international media, including The Citizen, The East African, The Guardian of UK, The Times of London and the African Argument, was first arraigned at Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s court on August 5, 2019, charged with money laundering and organised crime counts, which lack bail, and a third count of tax evasion.
Six self-proclaimed plain clothes police officers, who refused to display their identity cards, stormed to Kabendera’s home aboard a Toyota Alphard Sedan in evening on July 29, 2019, to arrest him.
His neighbours insisted that they would escort him to know exactly the police post they were sending him, lest they were members of a group of criminals who have of late been terrorising the country.
However, the law enforcers forcefully grabbed mobile phone handsets of Kabendera, his wife and of their nighbours, who were recording the incident, before they took him to Oyster Bay Police Station in Dar es Salaam for questioning.
Tension flared worldwide when Dar es Salaam Police Special Zone commander Lazaro Mambosasa said he was not aware of the Kabendera’s arrest.
“Authorities must immediately disclose if they are holding Erick Kabendera, and for what reason, and ensure the journalist is returned safely to his family,” the CPJ representative for the Sub-Saharan Africa, Ms Muthoki Mumo, said then.
Few days later commander Mambosasa admitted that the Immigration Department was holding Kabendera for questioning over his citizenship only to see him charged with different counts at the court.