Human Rights in Africa: Review of 2019 - Tanzania [AFR 01/1352/2020]


The authorities severely restricted the rights to freedom of expression and association, and targeted journalists, human rights defenders and political opposition members. Repressive legislation with broad provisions gave authorities sweeping powers to silence critics and stop media outlets, NGOs and political parties from operating. Authorities arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted government critics on trumped-up charges, and security forces were implicated in abductions and enforced disappearances. Burundian refugees and asylum seekers were subjected to government pressure to return to Burundi where they were at risk of serious human rights violations. LGBTI people were subjected to violence, legal harassment and discrimination.

Freedoms of expression and association

In January, ahead of the October 2020 general elections, the government amended the Political Parties Act to give the Registrar of Political Parties powers to deregister political parties on vague grounds such as “contravening the Act”, demand unreasonable information from them, and suspend members of political parties. The new provisions required organizations and individuals to get approval from the Registrar before participating in civic education courses, effectively denying them access to information.

The government refused to implement several East African Court of Justice rulings, including a judgement in March (Reference No 2 of 2017, Media Council of Tanzania & 2 others v the Attorney General of the United Republic of Tanzania) which directed them to amend Media Services Act provisions and bring them in line with the Treaty for the Establishment of the East African Community.

In June, an omnibus law was passed, overriding the NGO Act and giving the Registrar of NGOs sweeping powers and wide discretion to investigate, evaluate and ban NGOs from operating, based on vaguely worded provisions.

The fear of bans and prosecution deterred journalists and others from exercising their right to freedom of expression. In February, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority suspended The Citizen newspaper for one week claiming it had violated the Bank of Tanzania’s reporting standards by reporting on inflation. Suspended media outlets were often banned from reporting even after their suspensions had expired. Bans against MwanaHalisi and Mawio newspapers remained in force after the authorities suspended them in September and June 2017 respectively. The ban was enforced despite the two media outlets reapplying for a licence and appealing to the Minister of Information, Culture and Sports to be allowed to resume publishing.

The authorities continued to crackdown on dissent, targeting journalists, and arresting and prosecuting more than 20 people in connection with offline and online content, in an attempt to prevent individuals from reporting on human rights violations or other criticism directed against them, as well as to punish such acts. (see below).

Arbitrary arrests and detentions

The authorities continued to arrest and prosecute government critics on trumped-up charges. Amnesty International documented cases of five journalists and two HRDs arrested. The implementation of repressive laws particularly affected the poor and marginalized by imposing unreasonably costly bail and bond conditions and using provisions that allowed courts to unreasonably deny bail or bond or to subject defendants to unnecessary and repeated court appearances.

In April, the Immigration Department at Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam detained and deported Wairagala Wakabi, director of the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), back to Uganda on grounds he was a “prohibited immigrant”. He had travelled to attend a human rights event.

In July, Erick Kabendera, an investigative journalist who has previously written for the Economist Intelligence Unit and other international media outlets about governance issues in Tanzania. was abducted by unidentified men who drove him to an undisclosed location where he was held for more than 24 hours before the police admitted they had detained him. Since his arrest, the court postponed his trial more than 12 times and refused bail each time. He was denied medical care in detention. He remained in Segerea Prison, Dar es Salaam at the end of the year, facing prosecution on charges of money laundering and involvement in organized crime.

Joseph Gandye, a broadcaster at Watetezi TV, and another journalist at Gilly Bonny Online TV, were arrested in Dar es Salaam on 22 and 24 August respectively. They were accused of covering an opposition party meeting and reporting inaccurate information. Joseph Gandye’s arrest came soon after he broadcast a programme about police torturing detainees. Both men were released on bail after three days on charges of publishing false information. At the time of publication of this report they were still awaiting trial.


Security forces were implicated in abductions and enforced disappearances. Government critic, Mdude Nyagali was abducted by armed men in May as he left work, hours after he called the President a “hypocrite” on Twitter. Five days later his body was found dumped in a bush. Tito Elia Magoti was abducted on 20 December according to members of his family. Tanzania police later claimed they arrested him for his involvement in organized crime and possession of a computer programme designed for committing an offence, including money laundering. He appeared before the Resident Magistrate’s Court of Dar es Salaam The offences he is charged with are unbailable. His family had access to him.

In July, the Foreign Affairs Minister told the BBC that journalist Azory Gwanda was dead without specifying the circumstances of his death, whether he had been murdered, or whether the government would investigate and bring alleged perpetrators to justice. He had disappeared from his home near Kibiti, Rufiji district in 2017, in suspicious circumstances, after he wrote about the murders of local government officials and police officers by unknown assailants.

There has been no investigation either into the enforced disappearance of Ben Saanane, a supporter of the opposition Party for Democracy and Progress. Before his disappearance in 2016, he posted a message on social media questioning the validity of the President’s academic credentials.

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders were attacked, threatened, unlawfully arrested, banned from travel, and found themselves victims of smear campaigns to discredit them or their work. The High Court in Dar es Salaam in September suspended Fatma Karume, a human rights lawyer, from practicing law after she challenged the Attorney General’s appointment. The court ordered the suspension, pending a disciplinary process before the Advocates Disciplinary Committee.

Human rights defenders who campaigned, mainly in rural areas, for accountability from the government and corporations for environmental damage and human rights violations related to extractive industries, were harassed, threatened, arrested and detained by the police. They were accused of espionage and inciting communities and people against investors. They were also arrested for participating in peaceful protests while some lawyers who sought to represent them were arrested, detained for prolonged periods without bail and often not brought before a judge to review their detention.

In November, the government passed legislation to withdraw individuals and NGOs’ possibility to file human rights cases before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This was done in a context in which Tanzania’s criminal justice system has repeatedly been found violating international standards of fairness by the regional court, thus preventing other cases from being brought in cases where similar cases would arise.

Refugees and asylum-seekers

Government officials increasingly pressured refugees and asylum-seekers into returning to Burundi, where they risked human rights violations, restricting their freedom of movement, living conditions s and economic opportunities. The President and other senior government officials repeatedly, and publicly, told them to return. Many returnees in Burundi said the difficult humanitarian conditions in Tanzania was one reason for leaving. In August the government signed a bilateral agreement with Burundi to return refugees “whether voluntarily or not”. While UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, provided financial and logistical support for the returns programme, it maintained that conditions in Burundi were not yet conducive to promoting returns (see Burundi entry). Around 80,000 Burundians have been returned under the returns programme since 2017, while over 160,000 remained in Tanzania at the end of the year.

Rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI)

Authorities subjected men perceived to be gay to forced anal examinations to obtain evidence of same-sex sexual relations and prosecute them in criminal cases. In April, the Registrar of NGOs announced that the government had cancelled the registration of six health organizations which worked on the rights of LGBTI people. including the Community Health Services and Advocacy, which along with two other organizations, was accused of “promoting unethical acts.”

LGBTI people faced violence and harassment from the police and were discriminated against in government health centres. Consequently, many avoided clinics, preferring to stay underground which further undermined their right to health.

In September, the Deputy Home Affairs Minister called for the arrest of anyone “promoting” homosexuality. There were no further details on what he meant by “promoting”.