Tanzania shuts The East African

Major Nairobi weekly accused of negative agenda against Tanzania

The Tanzanian government has suspended the publication of a major regional newspaper, The East African, 20 years after it began circulation in the country.

Its closure, allegedly over not being officially registered in Tanzania, has led to diplomats voicing concern at a possible crackdown on press freedom ahead of Tanzania's parliamentary and presidential elections in October.

The Nairobi-based weekly is part of the influential regional Nation Media Group which desbribed the closure as “surprising and unwarranted.” It claimed the newspaper's Tanzanian chief, Christopher Kidanka, had been accused by the information ministry of "having a negative agenda against Tanzania".

The European Union (EU) delegation in Dar es Salaam – with the support of Canada, Norway and Switzerland – has also voiced its concern at the decision, stating that while the media had a duty to work within the law, "press freedom and freedom to express opinions are fundamental rights of the people."

The Tanzanian government said the publication is in contravention of its 1976 Newspaper Act, a notorious piece of legislation which allows the information ministry to suspend publications indefinitely, without being required to justify the decision.

The government reportedly objected to a recent cartoon in The East African portraying president Jakaya Kikwete lying on a sofa being fed grapes from scantily-clad women labelled "cronyism, incompetence and corruption". Kikwete, who has been president for two terms is not able to run again for the office under the terms of the constitution.

The newspaper, which is circulated in Kenya and neighbouring countries including Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, contains stories and in-depth analysis from each country, in addition to international stories. Tanzania has previously cracked down on reporters and shut newspapers, including two leading Swahili-language daily newspapers which were each closed for a number of weeks in 2013, on charges of sedition.

Tanzania is currently ranked 69th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) press freedom index.