Country Profile

Since Dr. John Magufuli was sworn in to the presidency in November 2015, there have been renewed attacks on HRDs, journalists, and members of the LGBT community across the country, fuelled by both political statements and police acting with impunity.

Tanzania fell 12 spots in Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2017 World Press Freedom Index compared to 2016, largely due to the enactment of restrictive legislation like the Cyber Security Act, the Media Services Act, and the Statistics Act, as well as President Magufuli’s intolerance for public criticism of his program. A country once heralded as an example peaceful prosperity in the region has continued a downward spiral that must be closely monitored.

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Freedom of Association

Freedom of association is guaranteed under Article 20 of the Constitution[1] but several measures have been put in place to restrict the enjoyment of this right. Tanzania’s more than 4,000 NGOs are faced with the potential threat of deregistration.  A survey ordered by the Minister for Constitutional Affairs and Justice, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe, established in August 2016 that more than 5,000 board of trustees of various civil society organisations, associations, and other NGOs were operating illegally and failing to comply with the country’s laws, posing them the threat of impending deregulation.[2]

On 16 February 2017, Harrison Mwakyembe, then Minister of Constitution and Legal Affairs threatened to ban the Tanganyika Law Society (TLS). His statement came amid opposition party leader Tundu Lissu, also TLS president, showing interest in contesting the Presidential position.[3]

There has also been a considerable crackdown on the LGBT community and organisations that provide them services or advocate on their behalf. In September 2016, the Government of Tanzania threatened to ban non-governmental groups that promote the rights of LGBT people in the first public statement the new government made against the minority group.[4]

In February 2017, health minister Ummy Mwalimu announced a ban on HIV/AIDS services at 40 drop-in centres that cater to “key populations” – including gay men, men who have sex with men, transgender people and sex workers – saying they had been “promoting homosexuality.” The import and sale of lubricants was also banned in July 2016, a move Mwalimu said was aimed at curbing gay sex, among other measures.[5] About 30% of gay men in Tanzania are HIV-positive; now health workers say that figure could rise.

On 18 February 2017, deputy health minister Hamisi Kigwangalla announced plans to publish online a list of homosexuals who sell their bodies in an effort to investigate “the homosexuality syndicate.” The government backed down from this controversial plan a week later, stating that it would “destroy evidence.”[6]

Freedom of Expression

Although Article 18 of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania provides for freedom of expression, this right has continued to be restricted following the enactment of the Media Services Act (2016). This law purports to provide, among other things, regulation of the media industry, but critics have argued the law is in effect restricting HRDs, the media, and the public at large from freely seeking and conveying information. Tanzania has had a number of other laws which have been used to suppress media freedom like the National Security Act (1970) and the Newspaper Act (1976). Existing legislation, together with the newly enacted laws, are used by ruling powers to restrict the free flow of information.

On 17 March 2017, the Regional Commissioner for Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda, accompanied by police officers, invaded Clouds Media Group, one of Tanzania’s leading media houses, and demanded that the staff broadcast pre-recorded material.[7]

Nape Nnauye, then Minister of Information, Youth, Sports and Culture, took steps to form a committee to investigate the matter and promised to submit a report to his seniors, including the President. [8] In response, President Dr. John Pombe Magufuli sacked Nnauye immediate after the release of the report.[9] Following his dismissal, Nnauye wanted to speak with the media, whereupon he was threatened not to engage with the press. In the move to bar the former minister from talking the press, one police officer pointed a gun at Nnauye, forcing him to leave the venue. The government has not tried to hide its intention to curtail freedom of expression, with the President recently warning the media industry that “Media owners, let me tell you: ‘Be careful. Watch it. If you think you have that kind of freedom – not to that extent.”[10]

On 25 March 2017, musician Ney Wa Mitego was arrested by police in Morogoro, reportedly after releasing a song in which he voiced his criticism of recent developments in Tanzania.[11]

International observers and CSOs have repeatedly expressed their concerns over the shrinking civic space under the Makonda administration, where media houses, artists, and other media workers, are increasingly operating under fear of closure, harassment or incarceration for expressing themselves.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Since the 2015 general election, the new government of Tanzania has continued to restrict freedom of peaceful assembly with the main target being gatherings of the opposition party. However, even members of the ruling party have recently become the subject of restrictions.

The Tanzanian Constitution guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly, although the government has effectively limited this right as all assemblies require police approval and demonstrations critical of contemporary politics are at times actively discouraged.[12] The police force has been used to suppress any kind of gatherings conducted without their approval. Tanzanian human rights organisations report that even when opposition parties sought prior approval of police, authorities have denied permission to hold gatherings, leading to a two-pronged attack on freedom of peaceful assembly by both politicians and the police.[13] Freedom of assembly remains curtailed by unclear regulations over the use of public spaces, arbitrary use of force, misunderstanding of terms and responsibilities, and arbitrary limitations to peaceful assembly.

[1] The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania (1977),, Accessed 27 April 2017.

[2] The Citizen, John Namkwahe, “Tanzania: ‘5,000 Board of Trustees Illegal’”, 20 August 2016,, Accessed 4 May 2017.

[3] Deogratius Kamagi, The Citizen, “Lawyers fault Mwakyembe’s threat to ban TLS”, 17 February 2017,, Accessed 27 February 2017.

[4] Reuters, “Tanzania threatens to ban groups supporting gay rights”, 8 September 2016,, Accessed 4 May 2017.

[5] News Deeply, “Tanzania Continues Crackdown on LGBT Communities”, 4 April 2017,, Accessed 4 May 2017.

[6] News24, “Tanzania backs out of plan to publish ‘list of gays’”, 27 February 2017,, Accessed 4 May 2017.

[7] The Citizen, “Makonda in hot water over night Clouds raid”, 20 March 2017,, Accessed on 5 May 2017

[8] The Citizen, “Probe team to release report on Makonda”, 21 March 2017,, Accessed 27 April 2017.

[9] Africa News with AFP, “Tanzania: Magafuli sacks information minister appoints new one”, 24 March 2017,, Accessed 27 April 2017.

[10] BBC, “Tanzania rapper Nay wa Mitego freed after Magufuli criticism”, 28 March 2017,, Accessed on 5 May 2017

[11] BBC, “Tanzania rapper Nay wa Mitego freed after Magufuli criticism”, 28 March 2017,, Accessed on 5 May 2017

[12] Freedom House, “Freedom in the World 2016: Tanzania”,, Accessed 27 April 2017.

[13] The Citizen, “Activists bemoan restriction of rights”, 2 March 2017,, Accessed 4 May 2017.

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