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Newspaper suspended for "seditious" article; security forces summon editor for questioning

(MISA/IFEX) - The Tanzanian government has suspended "Mwanahalisi" newspaper for its alleged practice of running stories with the intention of "inciting public hatred" against the president and contributing to misunderstanding within the president's family.

According to a 13 October 2008 statement read by the Minister of Information, Sports and Culture, Captain George Mkuchika, the government considers a story in the "Mwanahalisi" Kiswahili weekly edition of 8 October to be "seditious". The story's headline read, "The plot to oust Kikwete from power discovered - His son Ridhwani to be used - people implicated with graft reorganise themselves."

Minister Mkuchika states that the paper violated the Newspaper Act of 1976, Article 31(1) clauses (d) and (e) and Article (32) (1) clause (c). The statement cited the reasons why the government felt that the article was seditious. It said the story intended to cause conflict between President Kikwete and his son, thereby creating misunderstanding within the president's family.

The statement also claimed the story was intended to create friction between President Kikwete, who is also Chairman of the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi party (CCM), and two senior party leaders, Mr. Rostam Azizi and Mr. Edward Lowasa, and eight regional CCM chairpersons. It further claimed the story was intended to create chaos in the public by comparing the environment that led to the resignation of the former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, to the current situation in Tanzania. The government also said the story violated media freedom by going beyond editorial freedom to intrusion into other people's privacy.

According to the statement, the story included false information that the efforts to obtain comments from Ridwani had failed. Furthermore, it said there was no proof for the story's claim that Ridwani is responsible for the plot to oust his father, President Kikwete.

"I, the Minister of Information, Sports and Culture, under the powers vested to me under the Newspaper Act 1976, ?declare that 'Mwanahalisi' should be suspended for three months, according to Article (25)(1). The penalty should start effectively from today, October 13, 2008 under Government Order No. 208A," said the minister.

The minister said the newspaper was suspended because of its failure to change its style of publishing "seditious" stories "against senior government officials and the government itself, even after several warnings to refrain from its unethical practice".

The statement added that the suspension was designed to send strong signals to other newspapers with similar intentions of violating ethical reporting under the name of practicing constitutional rights to freedom of expression.

The suspension comes one day after the Office of the Director of Criminal Investigations summoned "Mwanahalisi" managing editor Saed Kubenea for interrogation on 12 October about the article.