‘Draconian’ bill stuns rights groups

Watch what you write: publication of unofficial statistics could land you in prison for 3 years. Photo: Daniel Hayduk

Watch what you write: publication of unofficial statistics could land you in prison for 3 years. Photo: Daniel Hayduk

Being a journalist or researcher in Tanzania just got more dangerous.

Already criticized by international rights groups for clinging onto ‘outdated and repressive laws that stifle the press,’ Parliament has added a new law to that list: the Statistics Bill 2013.

The bill punishes anyone publishing ‘unofficial’ data or statistics that have not originated or cleared by the government’s National Bureau of Statistics.

If President Jakaya Kikwete signs the bill into law, journalists and researchers who cite unofficial statistics faces up to three years in prison, a 10 million TSH fine, or both.

“This is a desperate and calculated move by a draconian government keen on stamping out dissent and alternative views,” says Legal and Human Rights Centre executive director Helen Kijo-Bisimba.

“They are doing it with an ulterior motive as the country heads to a general election. It defeats logic that while we are struggling to remove numerous bad laws from our statutes, this government is adding more,” says Bisimba.

Bisimba says the bill is a setback to Kikwete’s own initiatives on open government.

Policy Forum communication and advocacy manager Alex Ruchyahinduru says the bill will have a negative impact on research and academic work in Tanzania.

“These institutions will lack the space and freedom to exercise their duties,” says Ruchyahinduru.

 

Earlier this month, Kikwete unveiled Azam Media’s new studio in Dar es Salaam, saying media and good journalism play an important role in society.

“That is why we have allowed operations of the private media,” says Kikwete.

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