Habari Kuu News and Opinion TANZANIA

Attacking Press Freedom: Tanzanian Style – Founder of Popular Online Forum Arrested

Arrested: One of the founders of JamiiForums

By. Special Correspondent

DAR-ES-SAALAM, TANZANIA – Tanzania Police Force has denied bail this afternoon for the Editor and Managing Director of  the East Africa widely read and visited online forums; JamiiForums, Maxence Melo. Dar es Salaam Zonal Crime office said “Orders from above” was the reason behind the denial.

 Maxence (40) was summoned by Dar es Salaam Zonal Crime Officer, Camilius Wambura this morning and he went straight to Police Central as directed. He is charged for stalling police investigations on cybercrime; mainly for not revealing names of some of JamiiForums contributors wanted by the law enforcers. He was remanded around 1.17 at the Police station.

JamiiForums is a Tanzania-based social networking website in East Africa founded by Maxence Melo and others in 2006. The online network is a user-generated content having more than 2.5 million visitors per month. At the Police central, Maxence in the company of Simon Mkina, a freedom of expression activist and editor together with a lawyer, Nakazael Tenga, was received by a Police Inspector, Msangi who arrested him thereafter.

 Inspector Msangi asked Mkina and Tenga to leave the police premises as Maxence would be in their custody until tomorrow when he will be appearing in court – at Ilala District Court in Dar es Salaam.

 In February 2008 Max and Mike Mushi were arrested few days before the arrival of President George Bush in Tanzania in what some activities considered to be trumped up charges. They were held for questioning for few hours but were later arrested without being charged for any wrong doing.

 Recently, the popular forum has become the only place where Tanzanians can air their views on the way the government is run under the new administration of a popular and increasingly controversial president John P. Magufuli who won election last year. Some people in the administration have been accused of fearing open discussion and open criticism of the President. JamiiForums had filed a case with the Tanzanian High Court challenging the constitutionality of the Cybercrime Act which is now used against Mr. Mello. The initial case was to be heard again early next year.

 In the past few days the government has been put in limelight following the finding of seven bodies of unidentified individuals who allegedly had marks of torture and were bound in sacks then dumped in the Ruvu River in Bagamoyo District, Pwani Region. There is increasing fear among some people – and this was widely shared in the forum – about who those individuals were and if one Ben Saanane (left) – a popular social media person, critic of the President and an opposition party officer  was one of them. Mr. Saanane has not been seen in public for almost three weeks while his family and supporters are looking for him.

saanane The government through Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa promised yesterday to conduct investigations on the seven bodies who were hastily buried after being found. The Prime Minister didn’t say anything if the government was looking for Mr. Saanane or not.  So far, no linkage has been made between the disappearance of Saanane and the seven bodies that are expected to be exhumed for more analysis.

Media outlets in the country, other social media companies – including more popular ones like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – are said to follow closely the development against JamiiForums in order to see what the Tanzanian government of Tanzania is planning in attempting to curb free expressions  and online speech. “We are concerned by the new development but we believe the Tanzania government will be prudent not to overreach in this one” said one Facebook official contacted by ZM who did not want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak for the company.

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