Country Profile

In the last six months, Tanzania has witnessed a massive shrinking of civic space, including an indefinite ban of political rallies, arbitrary arrests of legislators and members of the opposition, a ban on live coverage of parliament, and a crackdown on independent media and government critics.[1]

[1] DefendDefenders, “Tanzania: Stop threatening rights groups,” 6 July 2017,, Accessed 20 October 2017.

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Freedom of Association

On 3 June 2017, Olengurumwa Onesmo, National Coordinator of the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC), and John Baraka, Coordinator of the Tanzania Students Networking Programme (TSNP), were arbitrarily arrested at the Blue Pearl Hotel while attending a book launch organised by another NGO. They were later released.[1] On 20 September 2017, Olengurumwa was subjected to a second round of interrogations by security agents regarding his citizenship status.[2]

Over the last six months, anti-LGBTI rhetoric from the government in Tanzania has intensified. In a speech on 22 June 2017, President John Magufuli condemned NGOs working on LGBTI rights issues, saying that the organisations have “brought [Tanzania] drugs and homosexual practices that even cows disapprove of.”[3] At a rally in the capital Dodoma on 25 June, Home Affairs Minister Mgiwgulu Nchemba threatened organisations campaigning for LGBTI rights, vowing to deregister such organisations and imprison activists. “Those who want to campaign for gay rights should find another country that allows those things,” Nchemba stated.[4]

On 27 June 2017, two civic leaders were gunned down in Kibiti district. Village Chairman Khamis Mtima and executive officer Shamte Makawa were killed by unknown assailants in Mangwi village.[5]

On 6 July 2017, a group of 22 international civil society organisations released a joint statement calling on the Tanzanian government to end the threats against civil society, particularly LGBTI rights advocates. They also urged the government to provide pregnant girls with assistance in finishing their education.[6]

Two HRDs, Bibiana Mushi and Nicodemus Ngelela, were arrested on 12 July 2017 on charges of Disobedience of Statutory Duty under Section 123 of the Tanzanian Penal Code, which can carry a sentence of two years if found guilty. Mushi and Ngelela were leading a capacity building workshop for local government officials serving in regions with a prevalence of extractive industries when they were unexpectedly arrested.[7]

On 7 September 2017, opposition MP and President of the Tanganyika Law Society Tundu Lissu survived an assassination attempt by unknown assailants in the capital city of Dodoma. Lissu had been a major critic of the ruling party.[8]

On 16 September 2017, twenty people were arrested on Zanzibar for alleged homosexuality. The 12 women and eight men were picked up in a hotel where they were receiving training about HIV/Aids education programmes.[9]


On 17 October 2017, 13 LGBT HRDs were arrested while attending an internal meeting at the Peackock Hotel in Dar es Salaam. The meeting was organised by the Community Health Education Services and Advocacy (CHESA), a Tanzanian NGO. They were released on bail and no charges have been filled against them.[10] 

Freedom of Expression

On 15 June 2017, the Minister of Information, Sports and Culture, Harrison Mwakyembe, suspended the daily newspaper Mawio for a period of two years under the Media Services Act (2016). This came after the newspaper published information and photos linking two former Tanzanian presidents to corruption in the mining industry. A presidential order was made at the same time as the information was published prohibiting Tanzanian media from mentioning former presidents in connection to the mining scandal.[11]Simon Mkina, Mawio‘s editor-in-chief, reported receiving anonymous threatening calls on his mobile phone in the days following the newspaper’s suspension.[12] A court had previously ordered Mawio to be shut down indefinitely in January 2016 but the High Court overturned that ruling in March 2017 after an appeal.

On 10 July 2017, Halima Mdee, a lawmaker from the opposition Chadema party, was charged with insulting the president. Police detained Mdee in Dar es Salaam on 4 July, after she spoke critically of President John Magufulia’s ban on schooling for pregnant girls at a press conference on 3 July. Despite the arrest order specifying a 48-hour detention, Mdee was held for six days before her court appearance. She was granted bail on 7 August.[13]

On 20 September 2017, the Mwanahalisi weekly newspaper was banned for a period of 24 months after publishing an article entitled “Tumuombee nani, Magufuli au Tundu Lissu?” (Whom should we pray for, Magufuli or Tundu Lissu?). Editor Jabir Idrissa says the ban came abruptly, with authorities claiming that the newspaper had been publishing seditious materials purposely to create dissent against the government. This was also the second time the newspaper was banned. In June 2016, the High Court lifted a ban imposed by the government in 2012 for publishing content which was claimed to be a threat to the country’s security.[14]

On 29 September 2017, the government banned local weekly tabloid Raia Mwema for 90 days for publishing an article entitled “Uraisi Utamshinda John Magufuli” (John Maguful is presidency doomed to fail).[15]

[1]    World Organisation Against Torture, “Tanzania: Arbitrary arrest and subsequent release of Mr. Ole Ngurumwa Onesmo and Mr. John Baraka,” 8 June 2017,, Accessed 3 October 2017.

[2] Front Line Defenders, “Tanzania: Administrative harassment of human rights defender Onesmo Olengurumwa,” 21 September 2017,, Accessed 20 October 2017.

[3]    News24, “Tanzania vows to arrest those ‘protecting’ gay interests,” 26 June 2017,, Accessed 3 October 2017.

[4]    Reuters, “Tanzania threatens crackdown on LGBT advocates,” 26 June 2017,, Accessed 3 October 2017.

[5]    AllAfrica, “Tanzania: Two Civic Leaders Shot in Kibiti Village,” 28 June 2017,, Accessed 3 October 2017.

[6]    Human Rights Watch, “Tanzania: Stop Threatening Rights Groups,” 6 July 2017,, Accessed 3 October 2017.

[7]    Frontline Defenders, “Judicial harassment of two human rights defenders,” 14 July 2017,, Accessed 3 October 2017.

[8] National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya, “Joint Press Statement on the Attack and Shooting of Tundu Antiphas Lissu Human Rights Defenders, MP and the President of the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS) (Tanzanian Bar Association,” 19 September 2017,, Accessed 20 October 2017.

[9]    BBC, “Zanzibar arrests 20 over homosexuality,” 16 September 2017,, Accessed 3 October 2017.

[10] Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network, “SAHRDN Condemns Arbitrary Arrests and Detention in Tanzania,” 20 October 2017,, Accessed 24 October 2017.

[11]  Committee to Protect Journalists, “Tanzania imposes two-year publishing ban on newspaper,” 16 June 2017,, Accessed 3 October 2017.

[12]  Daily Nation, “Editor of suspended Tanzanian newspaper threatened,” 19 June 2017,, Accessed 3 October 2017.

[13]  IPP Media, “Kawe Legislator Charged with Offensive Language Against President Magufuli,” 11 August 2017,, Accessed 3 October 2017.

[14]  DefenceWeb, “Tanzania shuts down another ‘days numbered’ newspaper,” 20 September 2017,, Accessed 3 October 2017.

[15]  The East African, “Dissenting voices silenced in Magufuli regime,” 30 September 2017,, Accessed 3 October 2017.

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