Tanzania’s parliament this afternoon begun deliberating a bill which, if passed into law, would have dire implications for human rights in the country, said Amnesty International.
The Bill – The Written Laws (Miscellaneous Amendments No. 3 of 2019), made public on 19 June and being debated under a ‘certificate of urgency’ to speed up its passage, would restrict the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association, including placing impermissible restrictions on civil society organizations and entrenching censorship.
This afternoon members of the civil society, having only been invited this morning to provide feedback on the bill, provided hurried submissions to parliament, denying them a fair opportunity to properly scrutinize the sweeping changes proposed.
“The Tanzania government must allow for meaningful participation in law making processes by giving people adequate time to review, collate and present their views on a law that will impact their lives enormously,” said Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
The Written Laws Bill would effect changes to eight existing Acts of Parliament. Some of the laws to be affected are the Companies Act, the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Act, the Statistics Act, and the Films and Stage Plays Act.
The proposed amendments to the Companies Act will give the Registrar of Companies broad new powers and wide discretion to de-register a company on the basis of undefined and vague terms such as “terrorism financing” or “operating contrary to its objectives”.
“As currently worded, the Registrar can deregister companies at will for, among other reasons, associating with or supporting the activities of NGOs, which would create uncertainty in the business and employment sectors, and may reduce access to vital services to communities across the country,” said Sarah Jackson.
The proposed amendments to the NGO Act likewise give the Registrar of NGOs sweeping and wide discretionary powers to suspend the organizations and evaluate and investigate their operations. The law will also require these organizations, including community-based and self-help groups, to publish their annual audited financial reports in mainstream media imposing a cost burden that could bankrupt small, grassroots organisations.
Amendments to the Statistics Act introduce new procedures for publishing non-official information and creates an offence of dissemination of statistical information that criminalises fact checking by making illegal the publication of data that invalidates, distorts, or discredits official government statistics.
“These proposals imply the government has the monopoly on national data and the exclusive ability to analyse the data. This is the information age and the Government of Tanzania must not criminalize access to information,” said Sarah Jackson.
The Bill under consideration is also proposing to amend the Films and Stage Plays Act to introduce censorship of foreign productions filmed in the country. If it passes, foreign content producers must submit all raw footage, where it was shot, and a final copy of the production to the Tanzania Film Board. Producers will not be allowed to leave the country until they complete and sign a prescribed clearance form and submit it to the Film Board.
“Tanzania must refrain from taking yet another dangerous step deeper into censorship by targeting foreign producers, after already restricting media freedom,” said Sarah Jackson.
The proposed amendments of these and other laws being presented to parliament this afternoon are expected to be debated and passed into law in one week, on 27 June.
Amnesty International urges the authorities to scrap this bill and ensure that any proposed amendments are in line with Tanzania’s constitutional and international obligations and commitments to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.
It is crucial that the authorities pursue any proposed amendments in consultation with independent civil society and take concrete steps to end the relentless assault on human rights in the country.
The human rights situation in Tanzania has deteriorated under President John Magufuli. Repression of human rights is now commonplace.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Amnesty International.