Tanzania suspends two newspapers for sedition

Tanzania has suspended two leading Swahili-language daily newspapers on charges of sedition, according to a statement issued by the government on 1 October.

The action against the newspapers occured on 27 September when authorities suspended the respected, privately-owned Mwananchi for 14 days, and MTanzania for 90 days respectively.

Both newspapers are charged with publishing "hostile articles aimed at inciting the people to lose confidence in state institutions and thus endanger peace and national unity."

The two recent Mwananchi articles identified by the information ministry as the cause of the paper's suspension related to a leaked government report containing classified information on a new pay scale for civil servants, as well as a story titled "Muslims Pray Under Heavy Security" accompanied by an image of a police dog, which the government said implied incorrectly that police took dogs to Islamic places of worship.

MTanzania was suspended over "inflammatory" articles alleging police collusion in attacks against citizens, and suggested government failures in stopping attacks. The government singled out three articles in particular, published between March and September with the following titles: The Bloody Presidency; Revolution Cannot Be Avoided; and The Government Stinks of Blood.

The clampdown has been criticised by politicians, academics and reporters including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) which accuses Tanzania of relying regularly "on an arsenal of anti-media laws" with "wide discretionary powers" to ban publications. The New York-based rights group said the Tanzanian government could have resorted to the "Media Council of Tanzania, an ombudsman, rather than summarily suspending the publications."

Over a year ago a Tanzanian newspaper called MwanaHalisi was suspended "indefinitely" over a series of articles accusing the government of involvement in a brutal attack against a leader of doctors' strikes in the country. The newspaper named an official from the president's office, claiming he was a secret service agent involved in the attack.

The information ministry used the country's notorious 1976 Newspaper Act, which allows the minister to suspend publications indefinitely, without being required to justify the decision, to take action against the newspaper, which remains closed.

In February this year Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) highlighted Tanzania's dramatic fall in the World Press Freedom 2013 Index. Tanzania had been ranked 34th in 2011 but within a year had slipped to 70th place on the index, due to the death of two journalists who died during the course of their work: one killed while covering a demonstration, the other murdered.