Africa

Tanzania human rights group suspends operations

NGO coalition accuses security forces of intimidation, meddling in activities

Kizito Makoye   | 18.08.2020
Tanzania human rights group suspends operations

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania

A leading human rights group in Tanzania, the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), has suspended its operations in the East African country citing incessant intimidation and meddling in its activities by security forces.

The move comes barely weeks after the country’s electoral commission disqualified the donor-funded group from the list of organizations authorized to provide voters education, and monitor the forthcoming general elections scheduled for Oct. 28.

Tanzania has seen a sharp decline in respect for basic freedoms of association and expression in the past four years since President John Magufuli came into power, consequently affecting the media and civil society.

Authorities passed a raft of laws that stifle independent reporting and restrict the work of media, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and political opposition groups.

Rights groups accuse the government for being intolerant to criticism ahead of the general elections, raising doubts about the state of democracy and free speech in the united republic.

Vicky Ntetema, the THRDC board chairperson, said in a statement that police had forced bank authorities to freeze their accounts.

“Dear members and stakeholders, after deep deliberations in our emergency board meeting, we have decided to temporarily suspend institutional operations of our organizations, while we are trying to resolve the matter before us,” she said in a brief unsigned statement.

According to her, the THRDC national coordinator, Onesmo Ole Ngurumwa, was summoned by police on Monday for interrogation, ostensibly to explain why the NGOs had failed to heed government call to submit its contractual agreements with foreign donors as required by the law.

“He was briefly arrested and released later on bail after two public servants signed a bond of Tanzanian shillings 200 million,” Ntetema said.

Last week, Tanzania’s authorities banned local radio and television stations from airing foreign-produced content without government approval in a move critics say is likely to trample on citizens’ right to information.

International broadcasters will from now on not be allowed to air their programs through local televisions without government permission, according to recent amendments to the the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, 2020.

“Suspension of the THRDC is another evidence of an attack to civic space,” said Zitto Kabwe, a leader of ACT-Wazalendo party and a staunch critic of the government.

“Tanzanian authorities shouldn’t be allowed to continue harassing civil society organisations working towards consolidating our democracy. It is shocking,” he wrote on Twitter.

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