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Tanzanian newspaper suspended for pointing finger at ex-presidents

June 16, 2017

Tanzanian weekly, Mawio, has been ordered to suspend publication for two years after pointing the finger at two former presidents in connection with huge revenue losses, the country’s interior ministry said Friday.

The weekly, regularly critical of the government, was suspended after it published front page pictures of former presidents Jakaya Kikwete (2005-2015) and Benjamin Mkapa (1995-2005) on Thursday, linking them with dubious mining contracts.

On Wednesday, President John Magufuli had threatened “severe measures” against any media that suggested Kikwete and Mkapa might be involved in signing contracts that were disadvantage to the state.

Justice Minister Palamagamba Kabudi pointed out that the former heads of state enjoyed immunity from prosecution over events occurring during their mandates.

Mawio went on to report comments by opposition MP Tundi Lissu, who told parliament that Kikwete and Mkapa were mainly responsible for the controversial contracts and that both should be summoned before an enquiry commission.

A commission of enquiry set up by President John Magufuli on Monday estimated that 75 billion euros (84 billion dollars) had been lost in tax evasion arising from mining operations since 1998.

The panel found that the losses were primarily due to the failure of foreign companies operating in Africa’s fourth largest gold producer to declare earnings. It blamed flawed contracts unfavourable to the state.

The information ministry said that Mawio had made the accusations against the former leaders when neither of two commissions set up by Magufuli to probe the affair had blamed them for anything.

The weekly was ordered to suspend publication of both its print edition and the internet edition for 24 months from the date of notification.

Following publication of reports on the mining sector, Magufuli ordered the revision of laws on the allocation of mining contracts and asked prosecutors to question — and even charge — ministers of mining and of justice found to have signed contracts harmful to state interests in recent years.

Magufuli accused Canadian mining giant Barrick Gold of “stealing from us” in a live televised address this week, but welcomed discussions when the firm’s CEO John Thornton flew to Tanzania on Wednesday.

Mawio has already faced a government ban for its coverage of a political crisis after elections late in December 2015 in the semi-autonomous Zanzibar islands. That ban was lifted by the courts.

Tanzania has rich stocks of minerals. Apart from gold, the country exports copper, nickel, silver, diamonds and other precious stones such as tanzanite.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.