Cartoonist Optatus Fewma (Opptertus John Fwema) was arrested and imprisoned in Tanzania, allegedly for one of his cartoons
Optatus Fwema was arrested at his home on 23 September 2021 and interrogated without legal representation or the presence of family members in connection with alleged “cyber crimes”
The motive was allegedly a cartoon featuring the Tanzanian president and a former president that was posted on his social media accounts, apparently on Instagram
After two weeks behind bars he was placed at released without charge awaiting trial for “cybercrimes”.
After several postponements, this trial was held on 20 September 2022 and the case was dismissed, but just after leaving the courtroom he was arrested and imprisoned again. He was released on bail shortly afterwards, although the new charges are not known.
Context of the cartoon
The cartoon for which he is believed to have been initially arrested showed the current and 6th President of the Republic, Samia Suluhu, as a little 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 saying “She guarantees a good direction for the country“.
According to the interpretation offered to Cartooning for Peace by an observer, the joke was intended 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 is also an irony about her handling of the country’s affairs when she was president.
Various organisations condemn harassment and persecution of cartoonist
Cartooning for Peace (CFP), Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), Creative Industry Network Tanzania (CINT) and Africartoons condemn the harassment of cartoonist Opptertus Fwema and issued the following joint statement:
After being unjustly arrested and illegally detained for a cartoon he drew, cartoonist Opptertus Fwema’s trial was postponed several times, denying him justice in that process. Eventually, on September 20th, he was discharged by court after the prosecution entered Nolle Prosequi under section 91(1) of the Criminal Procedure Act CAP 20 R.E 2022, indicating that they had no intention of pursuing the charges against Oppertus and confirming our belief that the charges held against him had no credibility.
However, as soon as he left court chambers, he was re-arrested by the police within court corridors and taken back into custody. He was later released on bail upon guarantee of two sureties. No new charges have been made against Opptertus. The cartoonist has been ordered to report to Oysterbay Police Station on September 23rd where he will be represented by his lawyer Shilinde Swedy.
We express our concern and dismay at this latest development, which reflects an unjustified persecution of a cartoonist whose only crime was the execution of his job. We call for an immediate halt to this prosecution in keeping with the fundamental principles of freedom of expression as asserted in the Arusha Declaration on World Press Freedom Day, 2022.
We remind Mrs. Samia Suluhu Hassan, the President of the Republic of Tanzania, of the promise that she made in her Arusha speech to “protect journalists and open more space for freedom of expression and media”; a promise echoed by the Minister of Information, Communication and Information Technology, Mr. Nape Nnauye, who said; “The Ministry will continue to defend journalists and press freedom in Tanzania and Africa”. We urge the Government of Tanzania to diligently work towards a better, safe and free working environment for cartoonists in Tanzania”.
Humour in trouble, a collection of cases (III)
Cases of cartoonists who have been in trouble of some significance 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.