Human right activists and the media yesterday teamed up to urge the Ministry of Information, Culture and Sports’ to restrain itself from infringing on the rights of the media and activists to address issues related to the forthcoming General Election.
In a joint statement, FemaAct - a coalition of more than 50 non-governmental organizations – said in Dar es Salaam that the government threats to the media and activists were against the principles of human rights.
Speaking on behalf of the coalition, the Director of Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC), Francis Kiwanga, said it was the right of every citizen to participate in raising awareness to the public regarding the general election.
“It is against human rights principles for the government to silence activists, media, individuals, students of higher learning institutions and other social groups to give civic education to the public,” he said.
He said that many people and organisations which were giving civic education were striving to ensure that the nation got quality democratically elected leaders who would bring change after the election.
Kiwanga said FemaAct had issued a statement making it clear that it was against threats made by the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF).
“The media published or announced FemAct statement for the interest of the nation. We are surprised to see the government through the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information, Culture and Sports, Seth Kamuhanda attacking Tanzania Media Women Association (Tamwa) on the matter while the latter is a member of FemAct,” said Kiwanga.
He said it was not right for the government to attack Tamwa on grounds that it had abdicated its core mission and involved itself in other duties.
“In fact attacking Tamwa is equivalent to attacking FemAct and Tanzanians in general. This is spite. It is sad to see the government involving itself with campaigns while in principle, campaigns are meant for political parties,” he insisted.
The coalition said the government must be aware that activists were following up any menace which might happen to either NGOs or media for the purpose of silencing the voice of Tanzanians to widen their scope in terms of understanding issues, liberty and participation in the general election campaigns.
“We want the government to stop threatening community based organisation or individuals for claims that they were interfering in political issues. Wananchi have the right to give opinion and alternative ideas on issues of national interests,” Kiwanga said.
He said the coalition wanted the government to understand that FemAct would continue following up to ensure any acts that were “aimed at sabotaging the electoral process by silencing the voice of the people are unearthed as well as to defend the right of the people to elect good leaders who care for the interest of the public and nation”.
He said: “We also want the government to review the agreement by Tanzania Women Council (Bawata) on the rights of the public as well as obey the country’s laws before issuing their threats to associations and media”.
In another development, the Media Institute of Southern Africa –Tanzania Chapter has expressed shock, distress and concern over recent government threats against two local newspapers.
The MISA-Tan chairman, Ayub Rioba, said the threats to the newspapers came as a shock bearing in mind that the role of the media during campaigns was very crucial.
“The media outlets, both print and electronic, in this country have helped to inform voters, educate the electorate and provided a forum for important election related discussions to flourish,” said Rioba.
He said both electronic and print media in Tanzania had played a very crucial role in ensuring the electorate was informed about pertinent issues which include the election manifestoes of competing political parties, candidates, electoral procedures as well as voters’ rights and obligations.
“The government therefore poses a serious infringement to press freedom while at the same time interfering with constitutional rights of citizens to be informed and to communicate their views, opinions and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers,” said Rioba.
Earlier this month, defence and security forces cautioned political parties, groups of people and institutions to shun statements and acts likely to endanger peace and harmony in the run-up to the General Election whereby the parties were reminded to respect the election laws, rules and regulations.
The armed forces leaders warned: “Anyone threatening the existing peace, unity and harmony will not be tolerated,” stressing that the primary role of the security and defence forces was to ensure the country continued to enjoy peace and harmony.
“According to the law, the security and defence forces are not affiliated to any political party. We are responsible for peace and harmony and not otherwise.”
The TPDF statement was condemned by activists as a veiled threat to the people and an infringement on their right to freely elect leaders of their choice.