Nairobi, Kampala, Gaborone, London 13 October 2020:
The Panel of Eminent Persons co-chaired by Prof. Frederick Ssempebwa (Uganda), Dr. Willy Mutunga (Kenya) and Alice Mogwe (Botswana) watching the Tanzania elections continues to closely follow developments in the countdown to the General Election slated for 28 October 2020.
Elections are the ultimate opportunity for citizens to exercise their democratic will in choosing their leaders. The freedom to freely elect their leaders is foundational and consequential and any other rights are rendered ineffectual in its absence. Any impediments, restrictions or
actions that suppress this right is a grave violation of not only Tanzania’s Constitution but also universally accepted norms and covenants to which Tanzania is a party.
In this regard, the Panel has noted with concern the increasing Police intimidation of the Opposition which violates their rights of movement and expression and also curtails the right of voters to access information. In the past week, the Police intercepted Chadema presidential candidate Mr. Tundu Lissu’s convoy on its way to Kibaha, Coast region. In Hai constituency, the district head of police was caught on video telling the parliamentary candidate Mr. Freeman Mbowe that he would not win the elections in his constituency. While we commend the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Simon Sirro for his stated commitment to take disciplinary
action on the police officer, we would like to assert the primary mandate of the Police, which is to maintain law and order and facilitate the exercise of fundamental rights, freedoms and liberties by everyone. Acting in a partisan manner is therefore offensive to the rule of law and further undermines the fairness of the electoral process.
The Panel has also noted with concern the suppression of the freedom of expression and the right to information especially targeting social media influencers and activists through new online content regulations gazetted in July 2020. These regulations have been used to either block or suspend social media accounts that have been vocal critics of the government and
President John Pombe Magufuli. They include: Alen -@iAlenOfficial Khalifa Said – @ThatBoyKhalifax on twitter; Kigogo2014 @kigogo2014
The panel has taken note of the consequential role played by the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) which is reported to have issued instructions to mobile network operators that aim to prevent free flow of information during the elections. The Panel is concerned that the directives target to restrict the freedom of expression and freedom of
information, which is enshrined in Article 18 of the Constitution. TCRA’s amendments to the Electronic and Postal Communications (Radio and Television Broadcast) Regulations requiring broadcast media to obtain the authority’s permission to broadcast content jointly produced with regional and international partners is tantamount to prior censorship.
As a party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Tanzania is obligated to uphold the freedom of expression and enable individuals or groups to express their beliefs, thoughts, ideas, emotions and dissent free from government censorship However, extremely punitive actions by TCRA in the past few weeks have raised concern over the country’s commitment to the fundamental right of expression. These actions include the suspension of Mwananchi Online for six months in April 2020 over a report on the Covid-19 pandemic; fining three media companies Star Media, Azam Digital and Multichoice Tanzania
in April for their coverage of the country’s approach to Covid-19; suspension of Kwanza Online Tv in July for alleged biased Covid-19 reporting for merely publishing an alert by the US embassy; and placing Radio Free Africa (RFA) on probation for three months for airing a BBC
interview with the opposition presidential candidate that is alleged to lack balance.
These sanctions against independent media constitute attacks on freedom of expression and undermine the process of a transparent and credible election. Tanzania, as a member of the international community, should strive to uphold the ethos of a democratic society and its citizens should not be denied information on developments that affect them. The right to
information is a critical tenet of a free and fair election. The Panel is therefore concerned that the National Elections (Presidential and Parliamentary Elections) Regulations 2020 further restrict the freedom of expression of election observers by prohibiting them from commenting
on the elections until their final report has been approved by the NEC. Section 22 of the regulations is a clear breach of international standards and norms on not only freedom of expression but also the conduct of democratic elections as provided under the SADC Guidelines for the Conduct of Democratic Elections.
The Panel of Eminent Persons calls on the Government of Tanzania and the National Electoral Commission to uphold the freedom of the media, assembly and movement of all participants to ensure a free, fair and peaceful election.