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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

A Re(turn) to Self-Censorship

A Re(turn) to Self-Censorship

Chambi Chachage


This blogger is about to close up shop. After ten years of exercising his constitutional right to freedom of expression by blogging, he no longer feels safe. Self-censorship, it seems, is now the safer option.

Last year he received a clarifying email from a brave compatriot. "I have no problem" with circulating my comments, the mailer said. "However", s/he cautioned, "it may bring problems in the future with the enforcement of the Cybercrimes Act" of 2015 in Tanzania.

If such a courageous person could be that worried as to practice self-censorship, what would a coward do? As Shakespeare reminds us, "cowards die many times before their deaths". After all, within a space of one year more than ten people — including the co-founder of Jamii Forums  have been charged under the Cybercrimes Act.
Moreover, on February 5, 2017, the Minister of Information  declared that the Media Services Act became operational as of December 31, 2016. Despite the opposition from journalists and activists, the Parliament passed its Bill and the President promised, prior to its passing, that he will promptly assent to it. Among the reservations that the critics had is that of its definition of 'sedition'. 

Article 52(1)(a) of the Act partly defines a "seditious intent" as "an intention to bring hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the lawful authority of the Government of the United Republic." In subsection (d), the definition includes the raising of “discontent or disaffection amongst people or section of people."
“In determining whether the intention for which an act was done, any word spoken or any document published, was or was not seditious”, Article 52(3) stipulates, “every person shall be deemed to intend the consequences which would naturally follow from his conduct at the time and in the circumstances in which he conduct himself.” Then Article 53(1) defines seditious offences in terms of:

"Any person who (a) does or attempts to do or makes any preparation to do, or conspires with any person to do, any act or omission with a seditious intention; (b) utters any words with a seditious intention; (c) publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication; or (d) imports any seditious publication, unless that person has no reason to believe that it is seditious, commits an offence and shall be liable upon conviction, in the case of the first offender to a fine not less than five million shillings and not exceeding ten million shillings or to imprisonment for a term of not less than three years but not exceeding five years or both, and for a subsequent offence, to a fine of not less than seven million shillings and not exceeding twenty million shillings or to imprisonment for a term of not less than five year but not exceeding ten years or to both."

For a non-profit-making blog that is an enormous amount. More significantly, suspects are left to the (discretionary) mercy of state apparatuses when it comes to determining whether they have/had a "seditious intent" and/or committed "seditious offences." Hence the cautious would play safe by self-censorship lest they are charged.
With such uncertainty it is not surprising to read this recent tweet from the leader of one of the opposition parties: "And today it's my turn I've been informed by parliamentary security personnel that police will arrest me for sedition details are not known." By his turn, he means following the arrest of the chief whip of the official opposition camp in the Parliament who was arrested a day before.

Of course, one can hardly fault this leader of paranoia or publicity stunts for courting arrest given that on February 6, 2017, he publicly shared this personal encounter with a state apparatus: "I myself have been questioned by police twice and write this article after escaping an arrest on dubious sedition charges".
For some of us, in times like these, all we can do is to hearken to what a 'mama cartoon' told her dear baby: "Watch your mouth..."

"A change is gonna come", sung Cooke. Watch this space. So long.

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