Tuesday, 10 November 2015

EU, UK, US condemn arrest of observers


10th November 2015

 The Heads of Mission of the European Union delegation, the United Kingdom and the United States have condemned the implementation of the Cyber Crimes Act of 2015, saying it is infringement of fundamental freedoms.

In a joint statement availed to The Guardian yesterday in Dar es Salaam, the EU, UK and the US, among 15 other large world economies acknowledged that; “Tanzania had committed to applying the Cyber Crimes Act of 2015 in a manner that respects fundamental freedoms and to addressing a potentially negative interpretation of the law.”

“However, the first cases of application raise concern in view of their potential infringement of fundamental freedoms,” reads the statement in part.

The communiqué says the Heads of Mission are concerned about the recent arrest of members of staff of the Legal and Human Rights Centre in Dar es Salaam and confiscation of key technical outfits, reportedly motivated by Section 16 of the Cyber Crimes Act.

According to the statement, the events took place while the organisation was compiling observations made by national election observers around the country, a task for which the Legal and Human Rights Centre,
as a member of the Tanzania Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, has been accredited by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to handle.

The delegates maintain that; “as spelt out in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, the Heads of Mission are convinced of the need to enhance the election observation missions in the role they play, particularly as they are an important contributory factor to ensuring the regularity, transparency and credibility of elections.”

As such, the Heads of Mission call on the Government of Tanzania to assure the implementation of the Cyber Crime Act does not lead to infringement of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly the freedoms of expression and association and the right to participate in genuine elections and that it respects principles of good governance and the role of election observers and civil society organisations in the democratic processes.

Undersigned in the statement are the European Union Head of Delegation, the Heads of Mission of Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the Heads of Mission of Canada, Norway, Switzerland and the United States of America.

Worth noting is that while the dust on the matter is yet to settle, the Executive Director of the Legal and Human Right Centre (LHRC), Dr Helen Kijo-Bisimba, had a tragic road accident over the weekend from which she survived and is hospital recovering after surgery.

Until we went to print, efforts to reach the TCRA and government authorities including the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Prime Minister’s office proved futile. Deputy minister in the Ministry of Communication, Science and Technology January Makamba showed interest and requested the statement be sent to him, nonetheless, until sundown, he too had not responded.

In the development, 36 Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) were at the start of this month detained and work equipment including computers and other devices the property  of Tanzanian Civil Society Consortium on Election Observation (TACCEO) was also confiscated.

 This despite the fact that, TACCEO and the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) were granted official permission by the election governing body the National Election Commission (NEC) to observe the Elections Campaigns and the Election itself and the announcement.

In the wake of the incident, the Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) released a statement in which it “...vehemently condemn(ed) the act of the Tanzania Police Force to invade, arrest and seize office and personal electronic equipments of TACCEO Election Observation Team whose secretariat is Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC).”

According to the THRDC statement, the incident occurred on the afternoon of (2:30PM) of October 29th at the TACCEO Election Observation Centre in Kawe Beach Dar es Salaam.

It further holds that police ransacked the office for about 5 hours and thereafter detained and interrogated some 36 of their personnel including staff and volunteers. They were later released on bail and arraigned before court last week (Nov 2).

They face charges under Article 16 of the Cyber Crimes Act of 2015 for ‘collecting and disseminating election results contrary to the Election Act’ that gives exclusive right to announce the election results only to the National Election Commission and not any political party or any other institution.


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