The Tanzania government has banned MwanaHALISI, a popular weekly tabloid for three months effective today, 13th October 2008.
The ban, announced by the Minister for Information Culture and Sports, George Mkuchika was announced at a press conference in Dar es Salaam.
The minister accused the tabloid of consistent publication of “seditious” material. Sedition, a political crime, is entrenched in the Tanzania draconian Newspapers Act of 1976.
Government action stems from a front page story of MwanaHALISI of 8th October instant, which detailed underground moves to block President Jakaya Kikwete from running for the second term in office.
According to the tabloid, there are moves within the ruling party – Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), to “oust” Mr. Kikwete and have a different person run for presidency come general elections in 2010.
The story gives names of individual persons, including deputy ministers for home affairs and defence as belonging to the clique bent on making it hard for Mr. Kikwete to attempt the second term. On the list is the son of the president, Mr. Ridhiwani Kikwete who the tabloid says “may not know what is going on.”
Ridhiwani is said to be campaigning for a prospective chairperson of the ruling party’s youth wing in the current run-up to elections; a man the papers says, is among those who want Kikwete to be a “one-term president.”
Police in Dar es Salaam yesterday (12th October) held and interrogated the publisher of MwanaHALISI, Saed Kubenea for four hours from 17hrs and finally told him they will be charging him with sedition.
Accompanied by his lawyer, Mabere Marando, Kubenea told the police that there was nothing seditious in the story, the statement his lawyer repeatedly emphasized but police would not budge.
This afternoon, the editor of the tabloid, Mr. Jabir Idrissa was equally subjected to interrogation by the police and jointly charged with sedition. It is not clear as to when the two will appear in court to answer the charges.
MwanaHALISI has, for a year now, been subjected to threats by the department of information of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Sports (MAELEZO).
Besides, big businesses have also threatened to sue the publisher while others have already instituted cases at the high court in Dar es Salaam.
The weekly tabloid, established in May 2006, has been championing investigative journalism of its kind to a point that the publisher and the paper’s editorial advisor and media consultant Ndimara Tegambwage, were attacked ( on 5 th January 2008) by machetes and acid by thugs suspected to be working for some political motives. The case is drugging in court.
As at 17 hrs today (East African time) over 3,000 calls had been received from readers all over the country, condemning government action.
The publisher told the press this morning that he was contemplating going to court to seek to halt execution of the ban.