Politics, Africa

‘Tanzania’s 1st female president improves human rights situation’

Prominent human rights activist hails President Hassan for lifting ban on 30 media outlets and assuring review of repressive laws

Kizito Makoye   | 26.05.2022
‘Tanzania’s 1st female president improves human rights situation’


Human rights defenders in Tanzania said over the past year, they have heaved a sigh of relief under the first female President Samia Suluhu Hassan by her moves like lifting the ban on 30 media outlets, and assuring review repressive laws.

Hassan, who took over last year in March after the death of President John Magufuli has rekindled hope in the country characterized by strict authoritarian rule, claim the activists.

In an exclusive interview with Anadolu Agency, Onesmo Olengurumwa, the national coordinator of Tanzania’s Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), said the country now needs wider legal reforms to ensure current developments related to protecting civil rights are not reversed and remain sustainable.

“What we see today is just the political will of the president, we still have some laws that affect the operations of civil society organizations and human rights defenders. Others curtail the right of journalists, freedom of expression, and association. Comprehensive legal reforms are needed to repeal laws and put a sustainable legal environment in place for us to enjoy our rights” he said.

The THRDC was forced to suspend its operations in 2020 after the government ordered a freeze on its bank accounts, alleging that the group was financing terrorist activities.

The group, however, denied the allegations.

Since late President Magufuli had assumed office in 2015, Tanzania had been reporting curbs on civil rights, affecting the media and human rights defenders.

Authorities passed a series of repressive laws that stifled independent reporting and restricted the work of media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and political opposition groups.

Rights groups accused the Magufuli regime of being intolerant to criticism, raising doubts about the state of democracy and free speech in the country.

Olengurumwa said the new government has shown a commitment to fulfilling rights obligations stipulated in the country’s constitution as well as in regional and international treaties that Tanzania has ratified.

- Proper COVID-19 data

The prominent human rights activist said that unlike in the past, the new government has ensured the release of proper and accurate COVID-19 data and has encouraged Tanzanians to vaccinate against the killer disease.

“The president’s belief in human rights is real. For example, she has strengthened the right to freedom of expression by lifting the ban against 30 media outlets and ordered the release of our bank account which had been frozen for several months,” Olengurumwa said.

He said President Hassan has acted quickly to reverse some of the most controversial policies such as expelling pregnant girls from schools.

“Young girls who dropped out of school for various reasons including pregnancy have been allowed to resume their studies through an alternative means,” he added.

Olengurumwa further said that President Hassan has shown a willingness to promote, improve and strengthen the criminal justice system, urging the country’s judiciary to reduce the backlog and decide cases based on justice.

According to Olengurumwa, the president has also appointed 30 judges in the high court and the court of appeals, making their numbers 106, and has employed 245 magistrates to accentuate court cases.

He said that on the president’s orders police have expedited investigations against state agencies found violating human rights. At the same time, 140 cases have been withdrawn due to a lack of evidence.

- Previous regime stifled voices

Olengurumwa said the previous regime had made life difficult for the NGOs, restricting their activities by arbitrarily deregistering them.

He said the authorities had used the 2015 Cybercrimes Act to prosecute journalists and activists for allegedly publishing “false information” in the media and social media platforms.

Bloggers were also heavily penalized under the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations adopted in 2018, which required them to pay up to $900 for posting content on their websites, the rights groups said.

Olengurumwa hailed the new president for changing the tide and allowing people and activists to perform their duties.

“In many of her speeches, she has talked about human rights, the rule of law, and equality. We will feel very proud if she can lead the process to enact a new constitution, which will leave a lasting legacy even when she is not in power,” he said.

- President’s assurances encouraging

Olengurumwa, a trained lawyer, said he was relieved to hear President Hassan recently while attending the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the THRDC. She asked human rights activists to raise awareness about the country’s constitution and the rights it guarantees to the citizens.

“The constitution is a mother law, which embodies all the rights of humans living in Tanzania. I call upon you to educate the people to know their constitution,” she said.

On the issue of controlling foreign funding of NGOs, the president said it has been taken to deter money laundering and is in line with global requirements.

“We don’t intend to seize your money, we just want to know, how much you have received, and what is the action plan. How have you spent the money and what is the impact on the community” she said.

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