MAWIO newspaper, a critical weekly publication banned by the the government of Tanzania for two years in June 2017, has won a court case after the High Court of Tanzania quashed the government’s ban.
The problem is, due to the government’s vicious adamance, the newspaper may not see the light of the day in the near future because its owners have to obtain a license from the same government in order to publish it.
If past scenarios are something to go by, Mawio newspaper might end up getting a treatment that her sister newspapers, Mseto and MwanaHALISI, received after winning courts cases against the government this year. For reasons best known to the registrar of newspapers, the two papers have so far been denied licenses.
In his ruling on Mawio case on December 13, 2018, Judge Benhajj S. Masoud said the order by the information minister who banned the paper for two years was illegal and irrational. Concluding that the paper had been banned without a proper and fair hearing, Judge Masoud quashed aside the government’s order to ban the newspaper.
The publishers, Victoria Media Services Ltd, had filed a miscellaneous application No. 24 of 2017 with the High Court of Tanzania, against three respondents – the information minister, the registrar of newspapers, and the attorney general, seeking to move court to quash the government order by which the Minister for information, Culture, Arts and Sports, Dr. Harrison Mwakyembe, had banned the newspaper on June 15, 2017 on the grounds that it had defied the president’s restriction not to link former presidents with mineral scandals. In its issue of June 15-21, 2017 Mawio published photos of ex-presidents Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete in connection with a corruption story on the mining sector.
Among other things, the applicant, represented by Counsel Dr. Rugemeleza Nshala, argued that the minister had not observed the natural justice, and had violated his legal rights to freely publish and circulate the newspaper.
In part, Judge Masoud’s ruling reads: “Based on the circumstances of the case in which the allegation was made against the applicant, and on the same material date of 15l6l20I7 the order of banning the newspaper was issued out, it seems to me that there was a prior motive of banning the said newspaper without a proper hearing. The conclusion of the 1st respondent that the applicant violated the provisions of section 50 (a -e) of the Media Service Act No, 12 of 2016 leave some questions unanswered.
“In view of the above reasons, I am settled that the 1st and 2nd respondents ought to have conducted afair hearing of the applicant’s case. Unfortunately, they did not. Consequently, the court is satisfied that the ground upon which the court is to test before issuing prerogative orders exists as clearly stated in the case of Lausa Alfan Salurn (Supra). The order of the 1st respondent is tainted with illegality and is irrational. Basic rules for fair hearing were not observed.
“In the end, the applicant’s application is granted to the extent that an order of certiorari is allowed and the order of the 1st respondent banning Mawio Newspaper for 24 months is quashed and set aside. Instead the 1st respondent is advised to conduct a fair hearing on the matter in accordance to the rules of natural justice if he is still inclined to do pursue the matter. The damages claimed by the applicant is denied since there is no evidence on the record to justify the same. The application is granted to that effect and extent for reasons already stated with costs. It is so ordered.”
This ban on Mawio was the second government radical action in six months. In January 2017 the government had de-registered Mawio for publishing stories that allegedly “incited” people about the 2015 Zanzibar general election. The court brought the paper back to life in a similar manner it quashed this case.
Its sister paper, MwanaHALISI newspaper, was banned for two years on September 19, 207 after the government was aggrieved with an article that had criticised President John Magufuli following his reckless statement immediately preceding an attempted assassination of Tundu Lissu, a critical member of parliament and opposition chief whip.
Gunned down by unidentified assailants at his residence in Dodoma municipality, the MP remained in comma for more than a week at the Nairobi Hospital in Kenya as Tanzanians were gripped with panic, anger, and frustration. He survived miraculously, but is still in undergoing treatment in Brussels, Belgium.
As the paper kept investigating and analysing news, statement, events and trends surrounding the assassination attempt, suspecting the government behaviour in the process, the minister banned it for two years citing the article which he said had tarnished the president’s name. Government operative then secretly pursued the article author. By sheer luck, and assisted by good Samaritans, he ended up in asylum in Europe.
The newspaper publishers filed and won a court case with a ruling in July 2019 quashing aside the government’s ban. But the newspaper is still struggling to obtain the government license.
The already autocratic regime is tightening the noose on press freedom and other freedoms, threatening the country’s democratic gains of the past 25 years before Magufuli became president in 2015. Fear and intimidation have become an unnecessary norm in Magufuli’s Tanzania.