Reporters Without Borders today roundly condemned the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar’s ban on leading newspaper columnist Jabir Idrissa, noting that the island’s authorities were for the first time claiming that press accreditation issued by the government in Dar-es-Salaam is not valid in their part of Tanzania.
"No one is going to be taken in by this new ploy from a government with such repressive tendencies as Zanzibar’s," the press freedom organisation said. "The pretext it has found for banning a critical columnist from practising any form of journalism is utterly absurd."
The elections scheduled for October in Zanzibar will take place in "a climate of intimidation and censorship," the organisation predicted. "If elections are to be free, fair and transparent, journalists must be able to work freely, without having to submit to any thought tribunal."
The Zanzibar information ministry’s director of information, Ali Mwinyikai, said in 9 June statement that Idrissa was working "illegally" as a journalist and was therefore banned from continuing to do so "until he complies with the rules in force."
Idrissa has a press card issued by the authorities in the Tanzanian capital of Dar-es-Salaam, but the authorities in Zanzibar are now saying that journalists working on the island must obtain press accreditation from the Zanzibar government.
Idrissa has been writing a political column for the past year that has become very popular. Entitled "Waraka Kutoka Unguja" (Letter from Zanzibar), it has been appearing in the Swahili-language weekly Rai, which is published on the mainland but circulates in Zanzibar. In it, he has often commented ironically on the government’s mismanagement and human rights violations with a view to October’s elections.
The Zanzibar government often reacts to the least criticism in the independent press by accusing it of being a "threat to national unity." It closed down the independent weekly Dira indefinitely in November 2003 after accusing it of "publishing articles that could disrupt peace and solidarity in Zanzibar."