NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Four years of Tanzanian President John Magufuli's rule have stifled independent journalism and severely restricted the activities of non-governmental organizations, two international human rights groups said Monday.
With one year to go before the next elections, repressive laws have created an uneven playing field for people challenging the ruling party, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say in separate reports released jointly.
They say arbitrary arrests and threats to deregister non-governmental groups have stifled reporting and public discussion on alleged human rights violations.
Since his election in 2015 Magufuli has faced criticism for intolerance of dissenting voices in the East African nation.
"As President Magufuli marks four years in office next month, he must carefully reflect on his government's record of ruthlessly disemboweling the country's human rights framework," said Roland Ebole, Amnesty International's Tanzania researcher.
"His government must repeal all oppressive laws being used to clamp down on dissent and urgently end human rights violations and abuses," Ebole added.
"Tanzania should show true commitment to protecting and fulfilling the rights to freedom of expression and association," said Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "The authorities need to put a stop to harassment, intimidation and arbitrary arrests of activists, journalists and opposition members."
Human Rights Watch said it spoke to 80 journalists, bloggers, lawyers, representatives of non-governmental organizations and members of political parties for its report.
Amnesty International said it interviewed 68 government officials, representatives of non-governmental and intergovernmental groups, lawyers, academics and others.
The rights groups said that since 2015, Tanzania's government has stepped up censorship by banning or suspending at least five newspapers for content deemed critical. They include Tanzania's major English-language daily newspaper, The Citizen, this year and four others in 2017.
Authorities used the 2015 Cybercrimes Act to prosecute journalists and activists for social media posts, the groups said.
In November 2017, a court in Dar es Salaam convicted Bob Chacha Wangwe, a human rights activist, for "publication of false information" under the law because he described the island of Zanzibar as a colony of mainland Tanzania in a Facebook post. His conviction was overturned by the High Court.
Regulations adopted in 2018 require anyone with a website to pay hefty license fees of up to 2.1 million shillings (more than $900), the reports noted. They also broadly restrict online content and permit surveillance of cybercafes without judicial oversight.
Tanzania's government also controls independent research and public access to independent statistical information using the 2015 Statistics Act, denying citizens alternative sources of independently verified information, the reports said.
While amendments to the law introduced this year removed criminal liability for publishing non-official statistics, the authorities still maintain control of who can gather and disseminate statistical information, the reports added.