June 18, 2024
Tundu Lissu, opposition CHADEMA's presidential candidate, has been hounded into exile

By Human Rights Watch
Published November 28, 2020

Tanzanian government’s June 2020 regulations ban Tanzanian broadcasters from working with their foreign counterparts without staff from the regulatory authority or another other government agency present. Foreign journalists accredited to cover the elections in Zanzibar said security officials blocked them from entering polling places.Authorities in Tanzania killed at least four people and carried out other serious abuses that marred the national elections in late October and early November 2020.

After election campaigns started in August, the police arbitrarily arrested and detained scores of opposition party leaders and supporters.

In the weeks ahead of the elections, the authorities suspended television and radio stations, censored mobile phone communication, and blocked social media.

On the eve of elections, police fired live ammunition into crowds on the semi-autonomous island archipelago of Zanzibar, killing at least three people.


“The Tanzanian government crackdown on the opposition and the press during the electoral campaign undermined the credibility of the elections,” says Oryem Nyeko, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.”

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Elections on mainland Tanzania took place on October 28, and in Zanzibar on October 27 and 28. On October 30, the National Electoral Commission announced that President John Magufuli of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party had won with 84 percent of the vote ahead of his closest challenger, Tundu Lissu of the opposition, Chadema party.

At least 18 opposition party officials, leaders, and supporters, including Lissu and another presidential candidate, Seif Sharif Hamad of the ACT Wazalendo party, were arrested ahead of, and after the elections.

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Tundu Lissu, opposition CHADEMA's presidential candidate, has been hounded into exilePolice killed at least three people and injured scores of others on the night before the elections in Zanzibar. In a November 10 statement, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights called for investigations into allegations that at least 10 people were killed in Zanzibar in the two days leading up to the elections. On November 11, the inspector general of police, Simon Sirro, told the media that only two people died as a result of “sporadic violence” on October 26, and that a third, a soldier, was killed by opposition supporters on October 28, but did not address allegations of police involvement.

In Zanzibar, government security forces and a government-aligned militia group known as the “Mazombi,” or “Zombies,” harassed and beat people prior to and since the elections. Three people on Pemba island said that during this time security forces regularly harassed residents, brandishing guns and chasing them away from public spaces.

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In the lead-up to the elections, the media regulator, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), suspended media outlets for election-related coverage and placed restrictions on online content critical of the government. A journalist in Unguja, Zanzibar, told Human Rights Watch that on October 29, police briefly detained her and two colleagues at a police station as they sought to cover a street demonstration against the local election results organized by ACT Wazalendo.

Since President Magufuli took office in 2015, the authorities have increasingly cracked down on the media and civil society groups by passing and enforcing restrictive laws and threatening to withdraw the registration of organizations critical of the government. The government also placed restrictions on the political opposition and gave the registrar of political parties’ wide discretionary powers, including to withdraw registration from parties.

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“The Tanzanian government’s dramatic decline in respect for free expression, association and peaceful assembly was worryingly obvious during the elections,” Nyeko says. “The Magufuli government should take concrete steps to improve respect for human rights for all.”

On November 1, the police arrested the Chadema chairperson, Freeman Mbowe, and party members Godbless Lema and Boniface Jacob, the day before demonstrations called by Chadema and ACT Wazalendo to protest the alleged rigging of early election results. On November 2, the police arrested and later released Lissu, the opposition presidential candidate, at the European Union offices in Dar es Salaam in connection with the protests. Lissu later told the media that due to threats to his life, at the time of his arrest he was seeking asylum at the residence of the German ambassador. The following week, Lissu and Lema left Tanzania, citing continuing threats to their lives.

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Lissu, a prominent opposition leader and former parliament member, had previously been the target of attacks. He left the country in September 2017 after unknown assailants shot him, leaving him badly wounded outside his home in the Tanzanian capital, Dodoma. Although the government said at the time it was investigating the attack, no one has been arrested over the shooting three years on. Lissu only returned to Tanzania in July 2020.

On November 17, the authorities released ACT Wazalendo’s deputy secretary general, Nassor Mazrui, after he spent 23 days in detention. In an October 28 statement, the party reported that Mazrui had been abducted from his home at night and beaten. Police later claimed that Mazrui and 32 others were arrested for possessing devices that could interfere with the electoral system. ACT Wazalendo officials said that they were denied access to all their party members who had been detained for several days. Days before his arrest, Mazrui told Human Rights Watch that he had earlier been abducted and held for five hours by about six unidentified men on October 25 as he made his way to his office on Zanzibar’s Unguja island.

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On August 27, the media regulator Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority, ordered Clouds TV and Clouds FM to suspend programming for seven days and to apologize for allegedly airing candidate nomination results unconfirmed by the National Electoral Commission. On October 21, media authorities in Zanzibar suspended RVS Online TV, an online television station, for two months for allegedly failing to broadcast elections fairly.

The authorities appear to have blocked foreign journalists from covering the elections by failing in some instances to respond to accreditation applications. Four foreign journalists said that they wrote to officials at the Ministry of Information, Youth, Culture and Sports several weeks ahead of the elections to seek accreditation but did not receive responses. This follows the government’s June regulations banning Tanzanian broadcasters from working with their foreign counterparts without staff from the regulatory authority or another other government agency present. Foreign journalists accredited to cover the elections in Zanzibar said security officials blocked them from entering polling places.

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On September 18, the authorities charged Dominic Mgaya, a Chadema official, with providing content to the party’s YouTube channel, Chadema TV, without a license granted by the Communications authority. The regulatory authority has wide discretionary powers to license blogs, websites, and online content. Mgaya was released on bail and his trial is ongoing.

The authorities also restricted mobile phone and online communications ahead of the elections. On October 21, TCRA ordered telecom companies to suspend bulk text messaging until after the elections, blocking candidates from reaching large audiences. The day before the vote on mainland, Twitter reported “some blocking and throttling” of the social media site in Tanzania.

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Internet freedom organizations Open Observatory of Network Interference and the NetBlocks Internet Observatory indicated a likelihood of network disruption in the country targeting Twitter and messaging applications including WhatsApp. To access the internet and social media networks, Tanzanians began using virtual private networks (VPNs). However, on October 28, VPN service provider Proton VPN tweeted that VPNs were being blocked in the country.

On September 25, police arrested an ACT Wazalendo party official, Dotto Rangimoto, and his colleagues Arodia Peter and Dahlia Majid, at his office and detained them at the Oyster Bay police station in Dar es Salaam. Majid and Peter were later released, while Rangimoto was detained for 10 days without charge, in violation of Tanzanian law that requires suspects to be charged within 48 hours.

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