Tanzania urged to end civic space crackdown

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Tanzania should allow peaceful gatherings ahead of elections in October and step back from “draconian” laws, UN appointed independent rights experts said.

In a written appeal, three Special Rapporteurs maintained government was not meeting commitments on information sharing and transparency, after it stopped releasing COVID-19 statistics cases at the end of April.

Urging authorities to drop measures “that further curb civic space”, they cited the Basic Rights and Duties Enforcement Act, which “will ultimately prevent organisations from filing cases on behalf of victims” of rights abuses.

In a statement, the Special Rapporteurs warned amendments were “fast-tracked through Parliament without meaningful consultation”.

These were “the latest in a string of newly enacted draconian legislation” used to intimidate activists, silence journalists and restrict freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, they added.

The development comes against the backdrop of deteriorating human rights in Tanzania, according to the UN-appointed experts, who operate independently and report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

In 2016, opposition political gatherings were barred and there were “repeated arrests of opposition members, activists and critics”, said rapporteurs Clément Voule, Mary Lawlor and David Kaye, .

Other impacting measures include laws limiting free media, electronic communication and public use of statistics.

“Under government orders, multiple newspapers, radios and online TVs that expressed criticism of the President and government have beeb fined and/or suspended,” the experts said.

President John Magufuli declared the country virus-free in early June. However, several internet-based broadcaster and online stations were suspended and fined for allegedly “transmitting false and misleading information” on the country’s approach to managing COVID-19, the experts said, adding COVID-19 “further compounded pre-existing human rights concerns, notably regarding the right to freedom of expression, including freedom to seek, receive and impart information”.

The “crackdown” escalated in recent weeks, they said, with reports of an opposition leader attacked by unidentified assailants and eight opposition members arrested for alleged unlawful assembly.

A newspaper’s licence was suspended, they said, noting a police raid during training organised by the Tanzanian Human Rights Defenders Coalition.

The Special Rapporteurs attempted to engage with government on numerous occasions.

“Constant intimidation and harassment of activists and critics is unacceptable and must stop,” they said.