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Tanzania: Cartoonist arrested for insulting president

Tanzanian authorities have arrested a cartoonist over a cartoon that insinuated that President Samia Suluhu Hassan was being handheld by Jakaya Kikwete, a former president of that country.

Optatus Fwema was arrested on 24 September 2021 and is still in detention, a worrying sign that media freedoms remain restricted under President Hassan as they were under her predecessor,  the late John Magufuli.

The cartoon, which was published on social media, shows President Hassan as a girl playing with a basin of water. Behind her, Kikwete, who is regarded as her mentor, is seen reassuring the population.

The cartoon illustrated Kikwete’s current influential role in Tanzanian politics, Reporters without Borders (RSF) reported.

As of October 11, Fwema, who is held at Oysterbay police station in Dar es Salaam, had not been charged for more than two weeks, although he is now expected to be brought before the courts.

Under Tanzanian laws, anyone who is arrested is supposed to be brought to court within 48 hours.

MISA Tanzania raised the alarm that Fwema had been detained for long without appearing in court saying the cartoonist’s rights had been infringed.

“By being held under police custody for more than 48 hours, his human rights have been violated,” MISA Tanzania said.

“The whole situation since the arrest at his home and detention by the police raises concern in the way it was handled. We are worried if he will get a free trial.”

MISA’s position

When President Hassan came into power, she promised that the media would be less restricted, but she has since been showing a propensity for being averse to criticism.

Political leaders should not resort to insult laws when criticised by the media and the public. Insult laws have no place in modern democracies and are a sign of authoritarianism.

Tanzania had the perfect opportunity to change its path, in terms of its media freedom environment, when President Hassan came into power.  However, this seems to have been a false dawn, as a number of media outlets have been shut under her watch.

MISA calls on the government of Tanzania to immediately drop the charges against the cartoonist and ensure his safety upon his release.

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