Since the introduction of the cyber-crime law in Tanzania, there are allegations that citizens are being threatened with jail for insulting President John Magufuli on social media.
The law which was introduced last year despite widespread criticism, criminalizes the act of publishing “information, data or facts presented in a picture, text, symbol or any other form in a computer system where such information, data or fact is false, deceptive, misleading or inaccurate.”
Tanzania is the latest African country to introduce a cybercrime law, after Kenya, South Africa and Zambia.
President Magufli: Not the first to be insulted
President Magufuli is not the first to be insulted. Politicians from countries like Nigeria and South Africa have experienced this in recent times.
Former President of Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan and his wife received all kinds of insults during their spell as the president and first lady respectively. Former President Jonathan's successor President Buhari also felt insulted after a man based in Lagos named his dog “Buhari.”
In South Africa, an artist, Ayanda Mabulu depicted President Zuma’s genitals on Facebook as part of his social commentary titled “The Pornography of Power.”
Similar to Tanzania’s Cyber-crime’s law is Nigeria’s anti-social media bill which was introduced in the parliament last year but did not see the light of the day; it was withdrawn by the senate after it generated much criticism from Nigerians.
Just like Nigeria, social media platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter are an important platform for social and political discussions in Tanzania.
Even Magufuli won the Presidential election last year thanks to the social media. Strategists used Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp groups to send campaign messages and spread criticism about other candidates.
Magufuli’s “Undemocratic Actions”
Most citizens are now afraid of freely expressing themselves on social media after a serial prosecution of some people in the country for allegedly insulting President Magufuli.
This week, five people who all appeared before different magistrates were charged under the law for comments made on WhatsApp and other social media platforms. If convicted, they will be imprisoned with hefty fines. They however, denied the charges and were released on bail.
Since its introduction, reports say at least 10 people have been charged under the Cyber-crime act.
In June, a 40-year old man in Arusha was sentenced to three years in prison and a Sh7 million ($3,190) fine for insulting President John Magufuli on Facebook.
Since Magufuli was elected last year, critics have been kicking against his administration for his "undemocratic actions."
"He doesn't take criticism well," Reuter's Emmanuel Herman said, while describing Magufuli.
His initial rising popularity for spearheading an anti-corruption push and cutting down on wasteful spending have dropped sharply with the firing of opposition lawmakers and cancelling live parliamentary debates.
Going by the recommendations of Article (19) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which guarantees people the freedom of expression, many argue that Magufuli's polices are not geared towards upholding human rights.
Also, critics say Magufuli's clampdown against opposition members is not healthy for the country's democracy and the people.