- The independent weekly newspaper 'Dira', published on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, may have to close down because of a heavy fine it isn't able to pay. 'Dira' is Zanzibar's leading independent media, often critical towards the autonomous local government.
Huge libel damages were recently awarded against the Zanzibar independent weekly paper 'Dira' for printing "false and malicious statements" about the children of the autonomous island-state's President, Amani Abeid Karume.
The Zanzibari paper printed two articles in January this year, saying President Karume's son had used family connections to buy the Zanzibar State Trading Corporation and that his daughter had done the same to buy a government-owned shop in the town of Darajani.
The Karume family asked the paper to print an apology but when 'Dira' failed to do so, they sued for libel. The case has been in local courts for several months.
On 27 October, Zanzibar's High Court however finally made a verdict. It found 'Dira' guilty of libel and set damages at 660 million shillings (US$ 646,000) - an unprecedented amount in a Tanzanian libel case. The newspaper's editor, Ali Nabwa, says he cannot pay this large amount and therefore is to appeal the verdict.
'Dira', which only started up last December, has already become Zanzibar's best-selling paper and the first locally-produced independent one since the archipelago became part of Tanzania in 1964.
It has several times strongly criticised the island government, which until 2001 cracked down hard on independent media and even banned some journalists from the state. Since then, such repression has eased significantly.
The French media watchdog group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) today condemned the huge libel damages set for 'Dira'. "The court's decision does not make sense," said RSF Secretary-General Robert Ménard in a statement.
- The offending articles were not racist and did not advocate discrimination or call for violence, he added. "It is clear the paper will have to close because it cannot pay. We urge the appeals court not to award a sum in damages that would force the paper to shut down."
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