Tanzania: Five Charged with Cybercrime for Insulting President
Five Tanzanians have been charged with cybercrime for criticising President John Magufuli on WhatsApp social media.
Each suspect denied the charges placed against them at the Kisutu Resident Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday. The group has now been released on bail, however their trials mark an increased effort to silence criticism against Magufuli’s government.
Magufuli silencing his people
Critics have widely criticised the country’s new cybercrime laws, which were introduced last year. They criminalise the publishing of “information, data or facts presented in a picture, text, symbol or any other form in a computer system where such information, data or fact is false, deceptive, misleading or inaccurate.”
So far, at least 10 people have been charged under the Cybercrime act. If found guilty, they face time in prison and hefty fines for their crimes. In June, a 40-year old man was sentenced to three years in prison and ordered to pay Sh7 million (over $3,000) in fines for insulting John Magufuli on Facebook.
Social media being monitored
While social media played a pivotal role in Magufuli’s election win last year, authorities in the country are increasingly restricting people’s freedom on a range of networks. Publicly criticising the president, government or police force on Facebook has led to numerous arrests already and private chats on WhatsApp are also being monitored.
Of the five latest to be charged under the Cybercrime act, one is accused of criticising the police. “While they are preparing to fight the opposition, criminals are preparing to commit crime,” he allegedly said on Facebook and WhatsApp.
Another wrote in a WhatsApp group, “I don’t know what is going on in [Magufuli’s] head…We are at this stage because of one person who believes that what he thinks is always right. He needs to understand that politics isn’t about resentment and the opposition isn’t an enemy. He should learn to compete with the opposition on the basis of debate, not force.”
Their cases have been adjourned until September 27 when they will appear again in court.
Featured image: YouTube