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Tanzania blocks bulk SMS as rights environment deteriorates

28 Oct, 2020
Tanzania is in the process of holding its general elections, which have been tainted by the government’s clampdown on basic rights such as freedoms of expression, media, and, digital rights.

Tanzania is in the process of holding its general elections, which have been tainted by the government’s clampdown on basic rights such as freedoms of expression, media, association and digital rights.

In the few days leading to the elections, the government sought to block access to social media platforms and also throttled the internet.  The elections got underway today, 28 October 2020.

In addition, the authorities also banned bulk short message services (SMS), and bulk calling under the guise that these were being abused ahead of the general elections. The Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority announced that the two services were banned from 24 October to 11 November 2020.

The regulatory authority did not go into detail in defining what it termed abuse of the services. This raises legitimate concerns that the government is using this suspension to ensure that its opponents do not get wide reach in their election campaigns.

It is quite apparent that the authorities are weaponising regulations against the government’s opponents and the citizens of Tanzania.

As with the throttling of the internet and the blockade of social media platforms, this is a brazen attack on freedom of expression and on digital rights.

MISA Zimbabwe position

MISA Zimbabwe is gravely concerned with the continued deterioration of the freedom of expression environment in Tanzania.

The number of media violations in the run-up to the elections has escalated in a chilling manner, with basic rights and digital rights being violated with impunity.

We call on the government to immediately open up the bulk SMS and bulk calling services, as these are vehicles for access to information and freedom of expression.

In the same regard, access to social media networks such as Twitter and WhatsApp is still blocked and we call on Tanzanian authorities to ensure that these are restored without delay.

About MISA

The Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) was founded in 1996. Its work focuses on promoting, and advocating for, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and a free, independent, diverse and pluralistic media.

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