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Tanzania30 October 2003

Weekly paper may have to close because of heavy fine

Reporters Without Borders today condemned huge libel damages 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.

Editor Ali Nabwa said he could not pay the 660 million shillings (US$646,000) damages set by Zanzibar’s High Court on 27 October and would appeal.

"The court’s decision does not make sense," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general, Robert Ménard. "The offending articles were not racist and did not advocate discrimination or call for violence. 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."

Dira, which started up last December, is 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 criticised the island government, which until 2001 cracked down hard on independent media and banned some journalists from the state. Since then, such repression has eased.

The paper printed two articles in January this year saying 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. They asked the paper to print an apology but when it failed to do so they sued for libel.

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