Tanzania, cartoonist arrested and imprisoned for “cybercrimes”


Update 8 October 2021. After two weeks in prison, he has been released without charge pending trial for “cybercrime”.

Cartooning for Peace and Cartoonist Rights Network International have issued an alert about the illegal arrest and imprisonment in Tanzania of cartoonist Optatus Fwema, allegedly because of this cartoon.

Tanzania, cartoonist arrested and imprisoned for "cybercrimes"

On 4 October, Katuni (East African Cartoonists’ Society), issued a statement reporting the arrest and detention of cartoonist Optatus Fwema at the Oysterbay police station in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Katuni denounces that “He has also been denied bail and is therefore illegally detained”, calls for his immediate release and condemns “this blatant attack on press freedom and individual rights”.

The case is being closely followed and monitored by the Tanzania Coalition of Human Rights Defenders (THRDC), which has also issued a statement on the case, calling the cartoonist’s arrest and imprisonment arbitrary.

Optatus Fwema was arrested at his home on 23 September and interrogated without legal representation or the presence of family members in connection with alleged “cyber crimes”, although no charges have yet been filed, possibly for a cartoon posted on his social media (reportedly on Instagram). According to THRDC, as of today he remains in prison beyond the 48 hours in custody allowed by law

According to Katuni, the cartoonist, who has been defended by a THRDC lawyer since 3 October, is due to appear in court on Tuesday 5 October 2021.

About the cartoon

The cartoon for which he is believed to have been arrested shows the current and 6th President of the Republic, Samia Suluhu, as a girl hitting the water in a basin with the colours of the flag and making the sound “Ba! ba! ba! ba!”

With his back to her, the 4th President of the Republic, Jakaya Kikwete (renamed Kiwete “the crippled” and written on his back) addresses the population: “She guarantees good leadership of the country”

According to the interpretation offered to Cartooning for Peace by an observer, the joke is meant to criticise the current president’s mismanagement of the country and the effort to protect her from the previous president, whom many consider her mentor. The joke about her name also tends to ironise her handling of the country’s affairs when she was president.

I have not been able to find links to the cartoonist’s social media accounts or website, only this one possible photo.

Tanzania, cartoonist arrested and imprisoned for "cybercrimes"Humour in trouble, collection of cases (III)
Cases of cartoonists who have had problems of some importance because of their cartoons or satirical illustrations. There are also some stories of other people who, without being cartoonists, have got into trouble for sharing them.

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