New York, January 12, 2010—The Committee to Protect Journalists called today for the suspension of independent weekly Swahili newspaper Kulikoni to be lifted immediately. Information Minister George Mkuchika announced the suspension of the leading investigative weekly on Friday, citing a sales and distribution ban for a period of 90 days beginning January 11, according to local journalists and news reports.
The ruling was linked to a November 27, 2009, story that alleged cheating in the national exams for the Tanzania People’s Defense Forces, the managing editor of Dar-es-Salaam-based Kulikoni, Evarist Mwitumba, told CPJ. Presidential spokesman Salva Rweyemamu told CPJ that the minister had decided the newspaper had breached the security laws of the country. He suspended the newspaper under the 1976 Newspapers Act. The minister can make direct decisions for suspension without consulting the independent media monitoring body, the Media Council, the spokesman added. The information minister said the paper could not substantiate their claims in the story after a formal request to do so by the government-run registrar of newspapers, according to the state-owned Daily News.
“The information minister should not be able to censor a publication at will,” said CPJ’s Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We call on the minister to lift the ban immediately and to allow the Media Council to reach its own decision on the matter.”
According to local journalists, the decision was politicized because of upcoming election nominations. The paper is critical of the government and frequently investigates corruption issues. Tanzania is expected to hold its fourth multiparty general election October this year.
While the suspension announcement was made on Friday, Kulikoni’s staff were not invited to the press conference and only received official notification of their suspension Monday at 5 p.m., local journalists told CPJ. The newspaper published an edition on Sunday evening and distributed the newspaper Monday prior to receiving notice, Mwitumba told CPJ. The minister sent an additional letter demanding an explanation for publishing today despite the suspension order, he said.
The government suspended another leading investigative journal, MwanHalisi, under the same legal provision on October 13, 2008, for 90 days for “inciting public hatred against the president.”
CPJ is a New York–based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.