Tanzania suspends two major papers for sedition

Tanzania has suspended two leading Swahili-language daily newspapers on sedition charges, the government said Tuesday, a move criticised by rights groups.

The authorities on Friday suspended the privately-owned Mwananchi and MTanzania for 14 and 90 days respectively for publishing "hostile articles aimed at inciting the people to lose confidence in state institutions and thus endanger peace and national unity," a government statement said.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said Tanzania often relies "on an arsenal of anti-media laws" that allows the information ministry "wide discretionary powers to ban" publications.

"The government could have taken their grievances against Mwananchi and MTanzania to the Media Council of Tanzania, an ombudsman, rather than summarily suspending the publications," the New York-based CPJ said.

The authorities singled out two articles in Mwananchi -- The Citizen in Swahili -- for criticism.

One was a July 17 story on a new salary scheme for civil servants, which the government complained was based on a confidential document that the paper should not have had access to.

The second story, published in mid-August, was titled "Muslims Pray Under Heavy Security," and was accompanied by a picture of a police dog.

The government said the photograph implied that "the police had taken dogs to Islamic places of worship. This was not true."

The government also banned MTanzania over articles that alleged police involvement in attacks against citizens and suggested government failures in stopping attacks, the statement said.

The statement singled out three articles: "The Bloody Presidency," published on March 20, "Revolution Cannot Be Avoided," on June 12 and "The Government Stinks of Blood," from September 18.

The government has warned the paper several times to stop publishing "inflammatory content."