On October 12th, Amnesty International released a report accusing the Tanzanian Government of stifling all forms of disagreement, prior to the elections that will take place on the 28th later this month. According to the non-governmental organization, authorities in the country have threatened the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful gatherings, as President John Magufuli and his administration imposed an intimidating armory of laws in order to obstruct dissent. During the past months, security forces have detained people that oppose the government, robbing them of their right to freedom of assembly, association and movement. The actions made by the Magufuli Administration are frightening, as they lead Tanzania in the opposite direction of democracy.
According to Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southern Africa, Tanzania has “weaponized the law to the point that no one really knows when they are on the right or wrong side of it,” and added that “The use of the law to systemically and deliberately clamp down on people’s inalienable human rights, especially in an election season, is an extremely worrying and unhealthy sign for a country positioning itself for greater growth and development.” The Human Rights Organization claimed that politicians have been taken into custody for organizing and attending meetings, while media companies have been prohibited from reporting on political issues. Along with this, the Tanzanian government has criminalized online activism, and severely restricted NGO operations. Particularly during times of election, regulations on freedoms are significantly alarming. President Magufuli and his government are leading Tanzania towards dictatorship, considering there is no tolerance for political pluralism, independent programs or media.
Moreover, the threat towards political and civil freedoms will have severe effects for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, as the government imposed restrictions on organizations that promote the rights and health of the LGBT community. According to Human Rights Watch, the repression of LGBT people in Tanzania has included discretional arrests, forced anal exams, and methods of searching for evidence of homosexual behavior. These actions of cruelty and degradation reflects one part of the serious political repression in the country. Since Magufuli assumed in 2015, the freedom of expression and assembly have been endangered, and the circumstances are only aggravating. Since 2019, four laws have been passed that restrict NGOs’ operations. These laws included a disclosure of their source of funding, guidelines giving more control to the government, a ban on undertaking election-related activities, along with prohibiting organizations to convey voter education. These laws have made it difficult for NGOs with the goal of protecting human rights to give extensive information.
The clamp down on opposing political parties has escalated as well. On June 23rd this year, the leader of the opposition Alliance for Change and Transparency, Zitto Kabwe, was arrested along with seven party officials, for organizing “illegal assembly,” referring to an internal party meeting. Along with this, seven members of the party Chadema were arrested on July 7th, for singing the national anthem while raising their party flag. The members have not yet been released. Furthermore, in August new regulations were established regarding publications made by the media. The government adopted restrictions that prohibit Tanzanian broadcasters from cooperating with international broadcasters, without having the Tanzania Communications and Regulatory Authority or any other government agency present. Along with this, it imposed restrictions that criminalize a wide range of social media and online activities, counting those that support organizing demonstrations or promote homosexuality.
The political situation in Tanzania evokes deep concern, as the country is falling in the hands of a leader that is actively imposing laws to secure his spot in office. Measures must be taken in order to protect political and civic freedoms, and a restoration of democracy needs to be established. In order to have a free and fair election, the government has to permit human rights groups and the media to work independently, as well as allowing political opposition parties and critics to convey their opinions freely. Amnesty’s Muchena said that “President Magufuli must urgently reverse the decline in political and civil freedoms in Tanzania and ensure human rights defenders, activists and civil society organizations can carry out their work freely and independently without any fear of reprisals.”