Rights groups condemn detention of digital activist

JamiiForums founder Maxence Melo has been in police custody for over 48 hours. The digital activist is an opponent of Tanzania’s cybercrime act. Photo: Daniel Hayduk

Various human rights groups have condemned the detention of Maxence Melo, who has been held by police in Dar without charge since Tuesday, December 13, for not releasing data which could identify users on his website.

Police also searched his home and office without his consent, without a search warrant and without due procedure, says his business partner.

Melo is the founder of JamiiForums, a popular Swahili language hangout frequently used by whistleblowers to release sensitive information anonymously.

“The Tanzanian government would do better to investigate allegations of corruption, rather than pressuring a website to violate its users’ trust and privacy,” says Angela Quintal of the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York.

“Understand that in the modern world, the Internet is now categorized as a human right”
– Onesmo Olengurumwa

“[Melo] has been detained for more than 24 hours without being legally charged in the court of law. We demand the police to release Maxence Melo immediately due to the fact that they have failed to charge him in the court of law within the required time framework,” says Onesmo Olengurumwa of The Human Rights Defenders in Tanzania.

“Stop interfering with the freedoms of online media and to stop harassing and demanding the owners of online platforms to disclose the identities of their users. Understand that in the modern world, the Internet is now categorized as a human right,” says Olengurumwa.

JamiiForums has assured its members that their real identities are safe, encrypted and held on servers outside Tanzania.

The hashtag #FreeMaxenceMelo has been trending on Twitter across Tanzania since Wednesday, December 14.

Police officials have not commented on the matter so far.

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