- The government of Zanzibar, a semiautonomous island off the coast of Tanzania, has ordered the indefinite suspension of the independent weekly 'Dira', according to local journalists and international press reports. 'Dira', the island's most popular newspaper, has been highly critical of the government.
Editor Ali Nabwa told the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that 'Dira' received a letter yesterday, 24 November, from Zanzibar Minister of State Salim Juma Osman ordering the paper closed under a 1988 Act that empowers the government to shutter a paper it deems a "threat to national security."
According to editor Nabwa, the letter did not say why 'Dira' might be a threat to national security. Mr Nabwa denied the charge and said 'Dira' would seek a court injunction next week to allow it to resume publishing.
Mr Nabwa told CPJ he believes that 'Dira' was closed because it had criticised the government for "malpractices, corruption and abuse of power" and had recently run an article saying the ruling party was preparing to rig elections in 2005.
He said the paper had also opened up a debate on Zanzibar island's union with the Tanzanian mainland, another sensitive subject. Zanzibar joined a union with Tanganyika in 1964, forming the state of Tanzania.
This is the not the first difficulty that 'Dira' has faced. On 27 October, the Zanzibar High Court ordered the paper to pay US$ 660,000 in libel damages to the son and daughter of Zanzibar President Abeid Karume over articles alleging that they used family connections to buy state-owned businesses. Mr Nabwa told CPJ that this ruling is being appealed.
- This appears to be the latest in a series of moves to silence Zanzibar's only independent newspaper, said CPJ's Executive Director Ann Cooper. "We call on Zanzibari authorities to allow Dira to resume publishing immediately," she added.
While the situation of the press in mainland Tanzania has been relatively free and orderly during the last years, the Zanzibari government has repeatedly been noted for its negative attitude towards an independent press.
Zanzibar further has noted severe difficulties in maintaining democratic institution, also contrary to the situation in mainland Tanzania. Zanzibari elections regularly have been known to have been rigged and power abuses by the ruling elite frequently are disclosed.
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