Tanzania continues to justify it’s circulation ban of the regional weekly newspaper The EastAfrican as readership simply moves online.
In an unexpected move, President Jakaya Kikwete also spoke publicly about the incident.
“The owners of the paper have acknowledged that they contravened our laws and they have already applied for registration,” Kikwete said, addressing the matter at a press conference with German Federal President Joachim Gauck earlier this week.
Kikwete stated that there was a high degree of press freedom in Tanzania as evidenced by the number of media outlets in the country.
Gauck also chimed in on the matter, diplomatically saying that Germany is ready to advise Tanzania on matters concerning human rights, freedom of expression and media.
Meanwhile, The EastAfrican is simply encouraging its readers to go online.
They have taken out daily full page advertisements in The Citizen, promoting an online subscription package to the paper for a few dollars a month.
The EastAfrican was banned on January 23, allegedly for not being properly registered. Nation Media Group (NMG,) which owns the paper, says it registered when it first began circulation in Tanzania — 20 years ago.
But local bureau chief Christopher Kidanka says before the ban was issued he was summoned by the Director of Information Services, Assa Mwambene (also the government’s spokesman) and accused him of being negative and biased against Tanzania.
A press release my NMG says Mwambene also took offense to a political cartoon which ‘had upset the Head of State.’
The EastAfrican issued a printed apology for that cartoon.
“This abrupt action against The EastAfrican smacks of censorship, not bureaucracy,” says Committee to Protect Journalists East Africa Representative Tom Rhodes.
“We call on authorities to allow The EastAfrican to continue circulating and to address the outdated and repressive laws that stifle the press in Tanzania.”
The United Nations, European Union, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, US and a host of media rights groups have all voiced concerns over the ban.
Last year, leading Kiswahili daily Mwananchi was banned for two weeks for reasons which remain unspecified.