Reporters Without Borders today condemned the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar’s continuing harassment of veteran newspaper editor Ali Mohammed Nabwa, who has again been stripped of his Tanzanian nationality by the Zanzibar immigration department just three and a half months after having it restored by the Tanzanian interior minister.
Nabwa used to be the editor of the Zanzibar-based weekly Dira, which was forced to close in November 2003. He is now consulting editor of the privately-owned weekly Fahamu.
“The Zanzibar government continues to be intolerant of criticism, especially when it comes from Dira’s former editor,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It has decided to do everything to prevent Nabwa from working as a journalist, including using the crudest bureaucratic tricks. We again call on Zanzibar’s authorities to let journalists work in peace and allow diverse local news coverage.”
Nabwa got a letter from the Zanzibar immigration department on 6 August telling him that, as he was not a Tanzanian citizen he would henceforth be considered persona non grata in Zanzibar, and suggesting he should pay 400 dollars for a temporary residence permit. Signed by deputy immigration director A.K.H. Ramadhani, it claimed the decision was reached after consulting with the Tanzanian minister of home affairs, although Nabwa got a letter from the minister on 24 April (ref. no. HAS.152/155/10/N/58) telling him he had been given Tanzanian citizenship.
Nabwa told the Tanzanian daily The Guardian: “As the sole guarantor of citizenship, the minister for home affairs has the last word on this matter. I am therefore giving the immigration department a two-week ultimatum to give me back my travel documents. Otherwise, I will have no choice but to seek legal redress.”
Aged in his 60s, Nabwa is an experienced journalist who arrived in Tanzania from nearby Comoros shortly after independence. The newspaper he used to edit, Dira, took a strong position in favour of a multiparty system and good governance, and was Zanzibar’s biggest-circulation weekly. He was stripped of his nationality for the first time on 19 March 2003 and his passport was taken from him on 24 June of that year on the grounds that it was not in order.
The Zanzibar government banned Dira as “a threat to national unity” on 24 November 2003, a month after it was sentenced to pay an exorbitant fine for publishing “false and harmful” information about Zanzibar President Amani Karume’s children in two articles the previous January accusing them of using their father’s influence to buy state-owned companies that were being privatised.