Press freedom advocates freed after detention in Tanzania

Two press freedom advocates taken from their hotel in Tanzania by security officers and questioned were released on Thursday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) campaign group said.

South African journalist Angela Quintal, who is the CPJ’s Africa programme coordinator, and her Kenyan colleague Muthoki Mumo had been detained by authorities on Wednesday evening without explanation.

They were later released, after South Africa intervened.

South African foreign ministry spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya told AFP their release came about “after a lot of calls”.

“We need to understand the circumstances… (we) must get all the facts in order to engage the Tanzanian authorities,” Mabaya added.

In a later statement, the foreign ministry said the two women’s passports had been returned and they were “free to leave Tanzania”.

“We are happy that this matter has been resolved, the two journalists have their passports and they can travel today,” foreign minister Lindiwe Sisulu said.

New York-based CPJ said that Quintal, a former editor of South Africa’s Mail and Guardian newspaper, and Mumo were legally in Tanzania “on a reporting mission” when they were detained.

“Quintal and Mumo were detained yesterday at their hotel in Dar es Salaam by immigration and security officials, taken to an unknown location, and interrogated about their work,” it said in a statement Thursday.

“They were allowed back to their hotel after several hours of questioning,” and their passports were seized.

The CPJ said its staffers’ phones and computers were also seized.

“While they were detained, a false tweet saying they had been released was sent from Quintal’s personal Twitter account and repeated attempts were made to access Quintal’s email,” the CPJ said.

– Increasing repression –

Tanzania government spokesman Hassan Abbasi said he did not know why the two had been taken for questioning.

“My office is monitoring why the so-called CPJ journalists were allowed to enter the country but later were interviewed by immigration and released,” he said on Twitter.

However, an immigration official alleged Quintal and Mumo had violated the terms of their entry by meeting with local journalists.

“They engaged in activities different from those announced when they entered on October 31. They held meetings with Tanzanian journalists’ associations when they had officially come for a simple visit,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

The CPJ’s executive director, Joel Simon, said Quintal and Mumo were in Tanzania to try to understand the challenges journalists there are facing.

“It is deeply ironic that through their unjustified and abusive detention of our colleagues, Tanzanian authorities have made their work that much easier. It is now abundantly clear to anyone who followed the latest developments that Tanzanian journalists work in a climate of fear of intimidation,” Simon said.

Since his election three years ago, President John Magufuli has cracked down on independent media, closing down critical newspapers while rights groups have protested against the imposition of restrictive laws on freedom of expression.

Reporters Without Borders, a pressure group, ranked Tanzania 93rd out of 180 countries worldwide in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index, down 10 places on the previous year.

Other freedoms are also under pressure, with a powerful Dar es Salaam official last week announcing an anti-gay witch-hunt to track down people suspected of engaging in homosexuality, which is illegal in Tanzania under British colonial-era laws.

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