According to the local cartoonists’ organisation and leading Tanzanian human rights experts, Optatus Fwema’s rights have been violated after more than ten days of detention.
UPDATE – OCTOBER 08 2021: Following strongly-worded condemnation from both Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Without Borders, CRNI understands that Optatus Fwema was released earlier today, ending two weeks of detention. This is welcome but it’s apparent that a “Cyber Crimes” case will be brought against him at a later date. We urge the Tanzanian authorities to drop any and all charges and agree with RSF’s assessment: “Only the worst authoritarian regimes jail cartoonists over an ordinary satirical cartoon of the country’s leader.”
In a statement dated October 4th, the East African Cartoonists’ Society – KATUNI say that their member Optatus Fwema was arrested at his home on September 23rd. They state that the national law is very clear with regard to the limited time in which detention without charge is permissible and that having failed to bring a case against him the police have violated his rights. The continue: “He has also been denied bail and is therefore being held illegally.”
They are joined by Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRDC) who also made a release to the press today, saying in part:
“On 30th September 2021 Mr. Fwema was interrogated in absence of his advocate or family members for cyber offences. To date, no formal charge has been instituted in any court against him. Such unlawful prolonged detention is contrary to Section 32 of the Criminal Procedure Act Cap 20 R.E 2019 which obliges the Police Force not to detain a suspect in custody for more than 24 hours without releasing him on bail or arraigning him to a court of competent jurisdiction. Unlawful detention is a denial of one’s constitutional right to liberty guaranteed under Article 15 of the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, 1977 [Cap 2 R.E 2002].“
CRNI understands that colleagues of Mr Fwema believe the cartoon prompting police action depicts current President of the Republic, Samia Suluhu as a child carelessly splashing a tub of water. A former President, Jakaya Kikwete is shown shielding her from criticism. The 4th and 6th office-holders respectively, Kikwete is perceived to have been a mentor to Suluhu. Her immediate predecessor, John Magufuli, passed away earlier this year.
Mr Fwema is due to appear in court tomorrow, October 5th, with THRDC lawyers attending.
We share the alarm expressed by our colleagues at Cartooning For Peace, expect a swift hearing tomorrow were any charges against Optatus Fwema are brought in a timely fashion so that bail may be granted and he can return home. To detain him longer is unacceptable.