IF CPJ journalists Angela Quintal and Muthoki Mumo went to Tanzania to research on the shrinking civic space and freedom of the press, the government made it shorter and easier for them.
Immigration officers arrested them on Wednesday night at about 10:00pm and released them the following day after the Tanzania government was barraged with calls from local and international media and activists.
The Tanzania Editors Forum (TEF), Kenya Editors Guild and The African Editors Forum (TAEF) were among professional organizations that issued strong statements calling for unconditional release of Quintal and Mumo, who work with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Quintal is a South African national while Mumo is Kenyan, both of whom do not require visa to enter Tanzania. But the government spokesperson’s tweet said the duo had been arrested due to violating their visa conditions.
Later, the Tanzania Immigration Department said, in a written statement, that the journalists had not lived up to their three-month holiday visit permit. But they were released unconditionally, and allowed to stay.
The harassment triggered off a heated debate as to why the government should be wary of journalists to the point of unnecessarily causing itself an international embarrassment.
One government official anonymously told SAUTI KUBWA: “Even if they were to be required to have visa, no visa whatsoever would categorically mention a kind of conversations they would be having or the number and kind of people they would be meeting while in Tanzania. Besides, they are journalists, for whom interaction is a daily bread. But, if they had broken any law, why would the government detain them, temporarily confiscate their passports, and then release them without any charges? This shows they are innocent, and the government is just harassing them. We are equally embarrassed.”
Quintal and Mumo entered Tanzania on October 31st 2018, and were expected to stay until January 1st 2019. In the last one week, they have been able to have several interactions with media professionals. According to TEF acting chair Deodatus Balile, who interacted with the duo on Wednesday before they were arrested, one of the things they were keen about was a missing journalist Azory Gwanda who was abducted by unknown people in November 2017.
The government has ignored all calls for any serious action on finding or rescuing Gwanda wherever he may be. Recently, when the Home Affairs Minister Kangi Lugola and Inspector General of Police Simon Sirro were separately asked by journalists on what police were doing regarding Gwanda’s whereabouts, they jokingly said that the missing journalist might have possibly gone abroad in search of greener pastures!
Speaking to Deutsche Welle on Thursday afternoon, Balile said: “We discussed press freedom, the general trend (of shrinking civic space in Tanzania), and what the media are doing regarding the Azory Gwanda saga…” Former TEF chairman Absalom Kibanda who had also previously spoken to the CPJ duo confirmed that among issues discussed was the state of media in Tanzania.
“So, if the government’e move was meant to abort the journalists’ research on press freedom, it facilitated their work and confirmed their worries by arresting them. And the world has known more about the situation in Tanzania through this episode,” said another source, wishing to remain anonymous.
The Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) and the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) are expected to address a joint-press conference on Friday morning regarding the matter.
Over the period of three years since President John Magufuli came to power, Tanzania’s human rights situation has been deliberately deteriorating. His authoritarian rule has tightened noose on media, opposition, and civil society organizations. Impunity is at its zenith.
Last week the EU Head of Diplomatic Mission to Tanzania, Roeland van de Geer, was recalled to Brussels due to deteriorating relationship between the East African country and EU over human rights matters. The EU is already considering to take new steps in its relationship with Tanzania.
Quintal later wrote a narrative of the ordeal that she and her colleague suffered while in Tanzania.