DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - Tanzanian authorities ordered the detention of an opposition lawmaker on Tuesday for insulting President John Magufuli, days after the president ordered officials to take action against ‘incitement’.
The opposition has accused Magufuli, nicknamed “the Bulldozer” for his blunt leadership style, of presiding over an increasingly authoritarian government.
Kinondoni District Commissioner Ali Hapi ordered police to detain Halima Mdee, a lawmaker from the main opposition CHADEMA party, in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam and keep her for 48 hours pending criminal charges. “She should be questioned and sent to court to explain the insults she made against our president,” Hapi told journalists. He did not say what the insults were.
Tanzania’s laws allow regional and district commissioners to detain for 48 hours anyone who may “disturb public tranquillity.”
Magufuli warned opposition leaders on Sunday against “reckless” remarks and ordered authorities to take action against any opposition leader who incites violence.
More than 10 people, including university students and a lecturer, have been charged in court over the past few months with insulting the president via social networking platform like WhatsApp. Insulting the president was made a criminal offence under a cyber crimes law passed in 2015 before Magufuli came into office. It is punishable by up to three years in jail, a fine of around $3,000 or both. Magufuli ordered the immediate release of a popular local musician in March, a day after he was arrested for allegedly mocking the government in a song. Tanzanian authorities banned a newspaper for two years in June over articles it published linking two former presidents to alleged improprieties in mining deals signed in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Activists and opposition leaders have accused the government of cracking down on press freedom. The government said free speech had limits. Magufuli remains popular with many voters for his anti-corruption drives and cutting wasteful government spending since coming to power in November 2015.
On Monday, the government passed two bills allowing it to renegotiate gas and mining contracts with multinationals. Magufuli accuses many companies of tax evasion, charges the companies deny.
editing by Katharine Houreld and Duncan Miriri